An Open Letter to Colin Kaepernick

The news has been filled this week with coverage of the NFL players and staff who have been kneeling in protest during the singing of the national anthem, a protest begun last year by Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers. While the issues of race relations and patriotism are important, I see deeper and more important issues to be addressed, and I offer this week’s reflection in the form of an Open Letter to Colin Kaepernick as a way for us all to reflect on one of these deeper implications.

Dear Colin,

Well, it’s been a pretty active week in the protests that you began last year when you sat during the singing of the National Anthem, in order to bring attention to the issues of race in America, as you see them. Although I disagree with the method you have chosen to express your protest, and while I disagree with many of the assumptions you have spoken about regarding race relations in America, this does not prevent me from appreciating both your good intentions, and the good actions you have taken to improve the lives of others through your Foundation.

You began this protest because you were scandalized by what you see in our country with how too many treat Black Americans. So you understand the pain of being scandalized. You wanted to turn people’s attention to the issue, and I believe you were successful to a great degree in doing so. That being said, I do not believe you expected nor should be happy about what has transpired since. Let’s face reality: at this point hardly anyone is talking about race in America. What a great many people are debating is the appropriateness of what appears to be disrespect for our nation, its flag and its National Anthem. Whether you hoped for it or not, the topic of the conversation has changed

And that’s because these protests, which began with you being scandalized, have become scandalous to many people. Many are scandalized by the disrespect that seems to be shown to our country, and most hurtful to the men and women who risk or even have lost their lives in defense of our country. I am not writing this open letter to debate the merits of the protest that continue with your fellow NFL players. I am writing because I believe you have an historic opportunity that I don’t think you should miss.

I’m not sure when, but at some point we as a culture decided that causing scandal to others was no longer considered a problem. Maybe we grew to care so much about ourselves individually that we stopped caring about how our words and actions hurt other people. Whatever the reason, as a people we have virtually stopped caring about how we scandalize each other. And this is where I think a great opportunity lies.

Imagine this: what if you called the whole thing off?

I know it may sound crazy, but hear me out. What if you said that your intention was never to scandalize anyone and since many people are obviously scandalized, you are calling for an end to the kneeling during the National Anthem? Remember, you already made a change when you heard that sitting during the Anthem was scandalizing some veterans. You decided to kneel as a sign of continued protest, yes, but also as a sign of respect. I’m sorry, but the message isn’t getting through. And people, many good people, are scandalized by the kneeling.

So what would happen if you said you want everyone involved in the protest to stand with the people who have been scandalized by the protests and stand in honor of our country? Invite everyone to join you in reversing the tide of division born of disrespect, and derision, and to replace them with unity, grown from mutual respect and understanding.

Some would say you’d be giving up, and giving in—that you’d be letting down the cause you fought for. I think it’s the opposite. Imagine the reaction you would get–once you have worked to avoid the scandal of your brothers and sisters–when you invite all of us to address the scandal you hoped to bring to the forefront in the first place? Use your willingness to work to avoid scandalizing others to be a catalyst for others to address what scandalizes you.

You and I share a faith in the Son of God, who sacrificed His life in order to save ours. Having done all for us, His followers have always been called to do the same for others. We live in a time when expressing ourselves and being understood have become so important, but somehow understanding others is too often unimportant. Jesus preached and lived the opposite. Following this teaching, the Apostle Paul taught that we should do anything in our power to avoid scandalizing our brothers and sisters, as he writes in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 among others.

There was a time when even outside of Christian circles, people went out of their way to avoid scandalizing other people. This showed itself in the areas of modest clothing, manners and what used to be called “common courtesy.” Now we find ourselves with a chance to act on our Christian faith and work hard to avoid any scandalizing of another. Christians, above all others, have a calling to work hard to achieve this.

There are really only two ways to go from where we find ourselves today in our country: we can continue to operate on opposite sides of racial, economic and political divisions. We can yell louder and louder and listen less and less, and grow the scandal we cause each other. Or, we can do the opposite. We can make our first priority to NOT scandalize each other, but instead to listen and understand. We have real disagreements, and if we’re going to resolve them it will require all of us to see things we didn’t want to see, and to exchange the lies we’ve accepted as truths for the truths we called lies.

History has brought you this incredible opportunity. You stand on a stage with not only the whole nation but even the whole world watching, and listening. It’s a rare opportunity, and I hope you don’t miss it.

But you’re not the only one with an opportunity. We all have countless opportunities each day: to either scandalize our brothers and sisters or to love and respect them, and guard ourselves from being a scandal to anyone. Each of us can do this in whatever circles we operate, or whatever circles we join when we walk across any lines of division.

So let’s stand, together.