WASHINGTON – Unafraid to dive into America’s cultural divide, megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes is defending the rights of professional athletes' public demonstrations on the gridiron – whether in protest or prayer.
“What makes this nation great is that we can express our opinions even if that freedom is against kneeling on the ground,” he told CBN News, addressing the recent controversy surrounding NFL protests. “The same freedom that gives the right to criticize is the same freedom that gives them the right to kneel.”
While much of the backlash has focused on players who kneel in protest, some argue that the controversy exposes a media double standard.
Michael Frost wrote a perspective piece for the Washington Post, comparing Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick — both Christians and former NFL quarterbacks who popularized the posture of kneeling on the field: “One version is kneeling in private prayer. The other is kneeling in public protest.”
“I agree with the inequity in how we handle religion and how we are so critical of anybody who names the name of the Lord, but I still say it is his right to kneel and pray,” Jakes explained.
“It is Tim’s right to kneel and pray. It is also the equal rights of players to kneel and say maybe we have not always lived up to our highest ideals,” he continued. “The fact that you’re kneeling because you want all Americans to be treated the same is to me the enacting of what Christ died for.”
Players began taking the knee last year after Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, kicked off a movement to raise awareness about racial injustices and police brutality.
But the issue caught fire last month when President Trump challenged team owners to fire anyone who would not stand during the national anthem, calling players who kneel a “son of b****.”
Jakes, who pastors the 30,000 member multicultural Potter’s House church in Dallas, takes a historical view of protesting while focusing on the issue the players aim to highlight.
“When you are a lightning rod and you strike an issue and you set it off, don't expect the public to clap,” he explained. “Nobody clapped for Rosa Parks when she sat in a seat that she wasn't supposed to sit in.”
“We are driven by news cycles who go after ratings, who would rather focus on whether you kneel or not than to deal with the subject that made you kneel in the first place,” Jakes added.
The protests on the field have ignited swift backlash, with some fans selling their season tickets or burning the jerseys of their favorite teams.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game after several players from the opposing San Francisco 49ers knelt for the national anthem.
Jakes discussed the controversy with CBN News while on tour for his most recent book, Soar! Building Your Vision from the Ground Up.
You can watch his interview with CBN’s John Jessup in the video above.