On Christianity, Respect, and Non-Violent Protest

For the past several weeks there has been considerable press dedicated to the NFL players who have decided to kneel during the national anthem in protest.  It started with one player, Kaepernick in pre-season games, and has now extended to many players on many teams, and a whole lot of publicity. I’ve mainly stayed quiet about these protests for two reasons. One, I never watch NFL football. Not even the Seahawks. I try to watch the Super Bowl every year and get so bored with it, I end up reading a novel. So, to chime in about NFL players kneeling in protest seemed to be a bit far reaching for me.

Secondly, I haven’t said anything because I didn’t want to make people mad. It’s easier to stay quiet. But I’m reading Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. (It’s probably the fifteenth time I’ve read the novel.) I like John Ames, a Congregational pastor, very much and every time I read this novel, it moves me in the deep places of my heart. If you haven’t read this book, it’s just so tender and beautiful and helpful.

The novel deals with a poignant situation about a white man who loves a black woman and has a child with her. They can’t get married because the law does not permit interracial marriage. He goes home to Gilead to seek help and turns to Pastor John Ames for advice because Ames’s grandfather was a passionate abolitionist during and before the Civil War. It struck me anew while I was reading this novel that I have a Christian duty to speak up, in whatever way I can, in defense of those who have been silenced and oppressed.

This is where it gets murky. Because we don’t always agree on who the oppressed are, do we? And so because of the conflictive nature of it all, and the hostile environment of the country right now, I’ve stayed silent.

But then my daughter came home with some homework questions. She is studying the American Revolution and had to write something about the Boston Tea Party in which she wrote that it was a non-violent protest when the patriots took a stand against taxation without representation and threw the tea into the harbor. I chuckled. America’s very beginning is rooted in non-violent protest. I can only imagine the loyalists of their day probably had dinner conversations about how disrespectful the patriots were, and how God wanted them to submit to their God-ordained authority, and how if they were really God-fearing people they would do the right thing and leave things well enough alone.

Instead, the patriots sought liberty and equality, and eventually pissed off their colonizers by declaring independence, and we went to war.

The thing is, it’s never a good time to protest. And when a protest is well done and rightly timed, it is supposed to ruffle the feathers of those who are in powerful positions. Consequently, those in power tend to do their very best to silence the voices of the ones who are taking a stand because it’s unsettling to the power structures.

Look at history. If you have time, read Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and letters. His Letter from Birmingham City Jail is riveting and spot on. Today, we uphold Dr. King in Christian society as an exemplary man of God. But in his time, he made many people uncomfortable.

There will always be people who disagree and minimize the perceived oppression of others. But as a Christian, I’m learning to take care not to quiet the voice of the oppressed or mock them, or minimize their outcry, for if they are indeed the oppressed their Defender is strong and takes their side. I would be wise to listen.

As an American, we are granted the freedom to stand or kneel with no obligation to give mandated allegiance to the country we call home. This is part of what makes it a good place to live. To force a specific kind of allegiance is wrong and un-American. It’s also nothing new. If Martin Luther King Jr. had done as he was told, he would have gone far more slowly, been quiet more often, and he never would have marched on Washington. Thank God he listened to his own conscience because we needed his voice. His generation needed his voice. Ultimately, it took the collective voice of thousands to make the real difference. One leader can’t do it alone. The leader unites people, inspires people, and gives direction. But without the help of the masses the leader has no one to lead.

As a Christian, I have two things to say… One, I will never force or coerce anyone to give allegiance to the state or to a specific government or a particular leader or even a specific church. It goes against the entire nature and inception of our faith. Christians have always been a people who refuse to bow before idols, be they flags or anthems, or powerful dictators, or even good governments. We are supposed to be the ones who give ultimate allegiance to the One who is unseen. This is meant to provide us with a kind of perspective and a kind of distance and impartiality, so that we can see the ones who are being treated unjustly and offer our aid. But if we align ourselves with any power or government to such a degree that we take up an offense for its flag and its anthem, or its leader, we lose our impartiality and will not be able to discern true good from evil.

Secondly, non-violent protest deserves Christian respect because it is Christ-like. To attempt to stand up for what is right and go against powerful leaders in a non-violent way takes a specific kind of courage and patience. It’s the kind of thing Christians should recognize and tip our hats to. We need not join, or even take up the cause. However, to stand up for what someone believes in, in a non-violent manner, especially when there is a personal cost, calls to mind the One we have chosen to follow, and thereby merits our respect.



Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.


  1. I agree. I’d like to write more and just did but I erased it on accident. Will try to write more later.

    1. Sorry that it got erased! I hate it when that happens. Can’t wait to hear what else you think.


  2. Thank you for using your kind, strong voice to pipe into this situation. I agree completely and I appreciate you taking the time to put pen to paper. I haven’t read Gilead; I think it’s time I do!

  3. Tina,
    This is beautifully done. My inquiry into this was very messy but I arrived at a good place as well. It started with four hungry men just hiked out of Canyonlands National Park. I was the driver. In this car I have two veterans, one retired lawyer and a tech type. i pose the question on the way to lunch. I learned a few things. My social constructs have taught me to stand for the anthem regardless of venue, I am happy to do so. I don’t care for football, nor watch the NFL. I know so little, I know about the controversy but not about what the organization or the backbone of the protest is about.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.


  4. Super well-said, Tina, and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for being bold and articulating well something that needs to be said. I wonder why we as Christians seem to think that a challenge to anthems and flags is somehow contrary to genuine faith. Real Christians must have the courage to protest.

  5. Tina,
    Thank you. Your piece is thoughtful, studied, and so well-written, it was a pleasure to read.
    I was a fan of the Seahawks; my wife and family often carved out together-time with the games as our excuse to hang out, talk and eat.
    I struggle with this situation. I wish I understood the message of the protesting players; it appears to be about equality, racism, police brutality. However, the message is disjointed, confused, and therefore unclear.
    I wish the players would get together to clarify their desires. And I really wish they would use their platform without involving their work time, especially during the National Anthem.
    We Americans stand in respect, not for coercion. Of course, we would not be America if we were forced to stand, but we do stand. We stand for our Anthem, in respect and gratitude. We stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. We stand for Handle’s Messiah. We stand for the Bride’s professional, and we stand when a woman joins, or leaves, our table.
    I have an analogy, such as it is… God saves us, not by our obedience, but by grace. Yet, our response to his saving grace is obedience which calls us toward holiness. His grace precedes our obedience.
    Therefore, in gratitude, in respect, we stand; not for a song or for a flag, much less a government, (still less for a President), but for an ideal; the United States of America. Let us give respect, love, gratitude for our country, broken as it is. For the ideal of what the United States can/should be.
    Players, do this, because it is right to do so. Then your message will be received, and we can invest in making our nation better for all within her.

    1. I really appreciate that you took the time to comment so thoughtfully. I understand your points. Thank you for reading mine. As much as I think your points are valid, I also think the players are choosing to kneel in good conscience, and in the process it disrupts social norms. If they sought a more appropriate time, it probably wouldn’t get the press it’s getting and we probably wouldn’t see it as a protest. John says he knows you! It’s really nice to meet one of John’s friends … even if it’s via my blog!

      Warmly, Tina

  6. “Processional”… not “Bride’s professional”

  7. Enjoyed reading this piece, your thoughts and conclusion. Well written. Thank you. A member of my family suggested I read U.S.Code, Public Law 94-344, Section 6. I Googled it: about respecting flag, etc. Peaceful protest is lawful. Protests always have consequences. Protestors are responsible to others too.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I’ll check it out. That’s super helpful. And yes, protestors are responsible to others too. Good point.


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