Amid the violence, hatred and anger that has been expressed around racial issues recently, former NFL player Benjamin Watson has emerged as a voice of thoughtful reason.
His speech at the recent "Boston Pray" rally held on June 14 pointed his audience to truth, justice, kindness and faith, echoing his 2015 book Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race--And Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.
Benjamin who has long been outspoken about both his Christian faith and opposition to racism believes, as most Christians do, that the two are inseparable.
The former tight end, who retired this past March and has played 16 seasons for various teams in the NFL, opened the prayer rally by quoting Jeremiah 9:24: "Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord."
This verse reflects Benjamin's own values showcased on his website - truth, justice, faith, family, fatherhood and kindness.
Benjamin declared, "Our ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God. If you ever think you're too important, ask your kid about your grandfather; she doesn't know him. That's how fast we are here. You are two generations from being forgotten."
But we can influence the next generation, our kids, and Benjamin is a strong advocate for the importance of fathers. He encourages parents: "Our children watch our nonverbal reactions to race as well as hear our comments.
"Be mindful of both because they are equally destructive. Racial jokes, generalisations, and stereotypes inevitably influence their expectations as they grow older and form the bias that sometimes creates the outcomes we witness on our television screens."
Christians can sometimes think that they have to focus on either Biblical values or social justice issues, but Benjamin is a great believer that the two go together.
"As believers, the Gospel informs how we view the world, it doesn't mean that we don't see what's really happening. It doesn't mean that we neglect facts. It doesn't mean that we aren't hurt and upset when injustice occurs. What it does mean is that we know a God who can correct all of those things. And it means that when we enter into these types of issues we need to enter in with truth and humility," he told Faith Driven Athlete:
On his website, he states: "The Gospel must always remain at the center of our lives because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. I fervently address the physical ills of the world with the hope of sharing the essential, equalizing and everlasting spiritual cure for mankind's most pressing dilemma [sin]."
Raised in a pastor's home, with loving parents, Benjamin chose to follow Jesus as a six year old. Even at such a young age he realised his sins separated him from a holy God and that Jesus offered him salvation and eternal life. He says that his mom remembers that he always wanted to be a football player and a missionary. He met his wife, Kirsten, through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the University of Georgia, and together they now have seven children. He is also a vocal opponent of abortion, and an advocate for the homeless.
Benjamin remembers that when he first started to play NFL football he was such a perfectionist and so afraid of failure. However, through an ACL injury and deep discussions with his father, he came to realise that the grace (undeserved love) Jesus Christ offers means he doesn't have to be perfect, he can try and maybe fail and always be forgiven. This insight gave him the freedom to boldly live out his convictions and attain new heights both professionally and personally.
He and Kirsten established the One More Foundation in 2008, devoted to meeting real needs, promoting education and providing enrichment opportunities through charities in order to spread the love and hope of Christ to One More soul.
As regards racial issues, Benjamin wrote on Facebook in 2016: "Only in Christ do the temporal distinctions between us fade, as our oneness in Him takes precedence over our color, creed and culture; and our allegiance to Him compels us to make those who matter to Him, matter most to us."
He told Fox News in June, "Right now at a time of turmoil and a time of trying to figure out where we go next as a nation, we need to seek kindness, we need to treat people with compassion, we need to seek justice - whether that is protection or punishment, and we need to seek righteousness – the moral law that we all should live by."•