Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett recently said that it would take a white player kneeling during the national anthem for the NFL-player protests of racial oppression to take on a greater meaning. Last night, the Cleveland Brown’s rookie tight end and devout Christian Seth DeValve listened. DeValve along with several African American teammates formed the largest group of players from one team to kneel during the anthem.
“We took an opportunity to pray for the men and women in our country during that time,” DeValve said. “We have a responsibility to do something with our platform,” DeValve explained, citing the desire to make people aware “there’s things in this country that still need to change.”
DeValve joins a growing list of players who have chosen to kneel during the anthem, a practice started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. DeValve, whose wife is African American, said his decision was shaped by the future his children would inherit.
“I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me. Want to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”
DeValve—who was the worship leader for the Christian Union at Princeton University—joins a growing list of outspoken Christians who have either knelt or supported those who kneel as a way of raising awareness of the racial injustices they see in America. Oakland Raiders quarterback and Christian Derek Carr recently placed his hand in support on an African American teammate as he knelt during the anthem explaining, “Obviously, we see what’s going on in the world. And obviously, everybody pays attention to the national anthem nowadays. We just said, ‘This is the best time to do it while still honoring our country,’ because I love our country more than anything. We’re free to live here and play this game. But we’re also free to show each other that we love one another. That’s the only message we were trying to send.”
Less than 24 hours later, DeValve’s decision made national headlines and provoked controversy. A quick search of DeValve’s name on Twitter shows an immediate backlash regarding his choice.
Ahh.. So Seth DeValve is the offended Snowflake who knelt during the Anthem.. Good to point that out
— Goose Oberstar (@MapleJordan43) August 22, 2017
The Church Divided
Kneeling during the anthem has long been controversial, including in evangelical Christian circles. After the first time Kaepernick did it, Christian Index editor Gerald Harris wrote, “The 49ers lost the game, but Kaepernick may have lost more because while it is a noble thing to stand up for African Americans and minorities it is not a good thing to sit down during the playing of the National Anthem.”
He then sarcastically added, “A new commandment I give to you: Thou shalt not respect one group if at the same time it causes you to disrespect others.”
However, Harris goes on to add that Kaepernick has also donated millions of dollars to causes promoting racial unity, been involved in the local community, and started charitable organizations. He also acknowledges that Kaepernick has applauded the troops during special presentations in NFL games and publicly clarified he supports all American soldiers fighting overseas.
Tebowing vs. Kaepernick’s Kneeling
The conflict within evangelicalism over Kaepernick, Christianity and kneeling during the national anthem falls along the same fault lines as many of the national racial controversies currently making headlines. In a stunning post last May, Christian author Michael Frost wrote about the two different Christian cultures reflected in beloved Christian athlete Tim Tebow and equally vocal Christian Kaepernick.
“It seems to me that Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick represent the two very different forms that American Christianity has come to,” Frost writes. “One version is kneeling in private prayer. The other is kneeling in public protest. One is concerned with private sins like abortion. The other is concerned with public sins like racial discrimination. One is listening to Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham. The other is listening to William Barber and John Perkins. One is rallying at the March for Life. The other is getting arrested at Moral Monday protests.”
Frost argues this bifurcation he’s witnessing is damaging, “leaving the church all the poorer, with each side needing to be enriched by the biblical vision of the other.”
It’s possible DeValve, who in many ways reflects more of the “Tebow” side of the chasm Frost references, could be a bridge for evangelicalism on this topic. Regardless, even with Kaepernick currently out of the NFL, the national anthem protests are only growing. And much like the tensions over race relations in our country, the topic won’t be going away soon.