The football season has begun and just a few weeks in, it is layered with controversy and drama. Much of the controversy has been fueled by recent comments from the President. In a speech to a crowd in Alabama, the President directed his remarks at Colin Kaepernick (and anyone else who would kneel during the anthem) as a “son of a b*tch.”
These remarks have fueled backlash and additional resistance from more players in multiple sports. In the larger conversation of Kaepernick’s well-known kneeling, the point of hostility has been with many people seeing the protest as an act of defiance towards the US flag, the anthem, the military and the U.S. as a country in its entirety. Those who oppose this tactic would prefer protesters to choose another way to voice their anger and concern, maintaining, in their eyes, the sacredness of the flag.
But the refusal to see the issue Kaepernick is creatively articulating is the core of the issue. In this respect, when nationalism is held as the highest value, anything or anyone that can potentially challenge the infallibility of this ideology will be placed on the margins. The refusal to see the issue Kaepernick is creatively articulating is the core of the issue. Click To Tweet
Would Jesus Take a Knee?
The core issue in #takeaknee is the refusal of many to compassionately hear the cry of black and brown bodies by passionately drowning it out in red, white and blue symbols.
As I’ve contemplated this story over the past year, I’ve done so asking what the American Evangelical Church can learn from this. Before offering a brief reflection on that, it might be helpful to review Kaepernick’s protest in light of a well-known act of protest from Jesus.
What does Jesus have to say about Kaepernick’s protest?
What does he have to say about challenging the sacred cows and symbols of his day?
What does he have to say to #takeaknee?
A quick glance at one of Jesus’ oft-repeated actions can help us. When you examine the gospels, you’ll consistently see Jesus offering physical and social healing on the Sabbath (a sacred day much like our American NFL Sundays). When Jesus did this, I can assure you that he was being intentional. Jesus knew the push back he was going to receive from religious leaders, and yet, he was not deterred one bit.
Healing on the Sabbath as Protest
Why did Jesus consistently heal on the Sabbath? He could have healed on a Tuesday morning. Or on Thursday afternoon. He could have gotten the week off to a good start by offering sight to blind people on Monday. Why on the Sabbath? Here’s what might be at work.
The Sabbath was one of the sacred cows of Jewish religious life. Moses explicitly gave instructions about the place of Sabbath and the details surrounding the practice. Yet those who practiced Sabbath consistently overlooked those in need (Luke 13). Jesus, on the other hand, consistently heals (which according to religious leaders constituted work) on the Sabbath. Why?
Maybe in this act he was protesting the inconsistency in their ideals (found in Torah) and their practice. He was exposing the dissonance of their spirituality. He offends the sensibilities of those who have held to the law of Sabbath, but not to the renewal it was to create.
Jesus could have healed on Tuesday, but it would not have as effectively called attention to the ways the religious community had gone astray.
Perhaps this is a good framework to see the protest of the Flag. There might be no higher symbol of value in the collective consciousness of Americans. Yet, there’s something under the flag that needs to be perpetually addressed. Namely, the failure to live up to the ideals the flag represents.
Jesus didn’t get rid of the Sabbath. He wanted to see it reflect its original intention.
Kaepernick didn’t burn the Flag. He wants to see it reflect its original intention—liberty and justice for all (especially in the area of police brutality).
Now, what does all of this have to do with the Church? Jesus didn't eliminate Sabbath, Kaepernick didn’t burn the Flag. Both point out their intent. Click To Tweet
For far too long, to be a Christian has meant putting this country above everything.
Any perceived slight against the United States is seen as ungratefulness or as an act of betrayal. In this way, the country is to be addressed in such a way that ignores the reality of its anti-Kingdom of God ways. When this perspective takes root in a Christian, a church, a denomination or an institution, we betray our call to worship God.
The deeply reactive and emotionally triggered responses towards Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem might be a sign of a deeper idolatry. One of the ways idolatry manifests is in language of unquestioned allegiance. Sadly, this unquestioned allegiance is not held by non-Christian civil religion adherents, but by church going, bible believing, faithful volunteering Christians.
This Kaepernick #takeaknee case-study is to reveal the subtle (and not so subtle ways) American Christians have bought into the myth of exclusive American exceptionalism. Are there things about America that are exceptional? Absolutely. Are there realities that betray that exceptionalism? Without question. Kaepernick reveals how Christians have bought the myth of American exceptionalism Click To Tweet
Until Christians can hold these two realities together, we will fall into the trap of idol worship at the altar of American exceptionalism, with the flag replacing the cross.
This controversy is to remind us that while we have made progress in this country, we have a long way to go.