An Unexpected Response to Nike and Colin Kaepernick

by Mark Klages , Christian Examiner Contributor |

(PHOTO: FACEBOOK)Nike's new controversial ad campaign.

To be honest, I had zero, zip, zilch, nada, no intention whatsoever in addressing, using breath on, giving attention to, opining or commenting on the recent conflagration that is Nike, Colin Kaepernick, and the NFL. Seriously. After two years of bad blood, name calling, protests, counter protests, and debate surrounding Kaepernick's decision to choose the flag and the National Anthem as his protest grounds, what good could come of my commenting even one more word on the issue?

Well, I guess that depends on you.

I have seen responses full of hate and bad language, protest pieces that intone only the US military has a monopoly on sacrifice, and calls for Nike to rescind its offer and go with Chris Kyle, Pat Tillman or Glenn Coffee. I have heard from friends, retired US Marines, who support Kaepernick's freedom to choose any form of protest and who applaud Nike's courage to risk sales by signing Kaepernick in their campaign. I have seen social media awash with fake Nike adds using pictures of everyone and everything from the Pope to Tillman to Jesus instead of Kaepernick. (Ok—to be honest, I "liked" the Jesus one.) I have heard calls to boycott Nike and the NFL, and I've heard calls that the whole thing represents idolatry and Christians should not be offended.

I am not going to debate with you the effectiveness of Nike's campaign. I am talking about it in my writing when I said I did not want to. It is pasted and repasted all over social media. Mainstream news media is running stories on it and finance outlets are talking profit and loss based on the controversial campaign. Trust me when I say the campaign is effective.

But should we care? Should Christians be offended by Nike's use of Kaepernick? Are we too wound up in Nike's material gain in the midst of the patriotic resurgence? Are we part of the problem?

That really depends on our priorities. If we place God and His Kingdom above all else, why do we care how someone treats the flag or their choice to protest perceived racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem? Is the flag, the National Ensign, the Stars and Stripes becoming an idol among progressive Christians? Is Christianity drifting from the conservative right to the progressive right, or are we just hearing the vocal progressives who identify as Christian because the truly conservative Christians refuse to engage in the rhetoric?

The issue of Kaepernick, Nike, the President, and protests creates more questions than it does answers.

The Bible is very clear where we are to place our allegiance. In Luke, Jesus clearly tells us the priority lies with the Father.

"He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27, NIV)

In the book of Matthew, Jesus describes these as "the greatest" commandments in the law (Matt 22:36 – 40, NIV), making the disposition of our relationship with the Father unequivocal. God and only God is to come first in our lives at all times. And second to Him, we are to love our neighbor.

Still, just because we devote that top spot to our Holy and Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit, does not mean we cannot also have allegiances here on earth. Many Christians have strong allegiances to a denomination or a branch of Christianity. Nazarenes, Baptists, Methodists and Church of Christ all meet and eat at the Sunday lunch buffet, but they do not intermingle services lightly. Similarly, Republicans and Democrats worship at the same altar on Sunday, but they do not vote for the same candidates in November. Placing importance in the flag, and holding with reverence the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who defend her, does not necessarily have to conflict with Jesus' teachings. Only when the flag or the military service takes the place of God does that conflict become untenable.

I have a friend, a brother for whom I would lay down my life and with whom I deployed and committed to do just that. He is very vocal in his rejection of the American Christian Church's anointing of Donald Trump and the renewed religious patriotism surrounding Nike and Kaepernick. He feels very strongly that we have crossed into idolatry, placing the flag and the President on our highest pedestal. We disagree on many things, to include the deification of the President, but I would still defend him with my life. Why does either of us need to be right or wrong? Why can't we each be both right and wrong?

As long as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is first in each of our lives, the rest really does not matter. Let Colin kneel and let Nike make a billion dollars on the campaign. True Christians will continue to pray for our nation, pray for the Kaepernicks and the Coffees and the Trumps, and enjoy good bantering across the table at lunch while watching the NFL and discussing the finer points of the pastor's sermon. True Christians will continue to support and reject the President, and true Christians will continue to debate tribalism and idolatry over a cup of coffee while watching football.

As long as God comes first, the rest really doesn't matter.

– Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.