By Deacon Godsey, MANT student at Northern Seminary
#TAKEAKNEE, part 1
Pastor, Vintage Church
I recently read Philippians 2:1-11 and reflected on #TakeAKnee, exploring what it means for us as part of the wider, global Christian family to bow our knees to the Lordship of Jesus when it comes to interacting with those we may disagree with.
#TakeAKnee has been virtually unavoidable in our national discourse this past week as Donald Trump used his bully pulpit in Alabama to attack NFL players who’ve chosen to #TakeAKnee during the national anthem. In a quote edited for content, Mr. Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that (SOB) off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’”
This was, of course, a not-so-veiled reference Colin Kaepernick who launched his protest last fall; a reference that both strategically evades the clearly stated purpose for the protest (to draw attention to the injustice, inequality and police brutality facing the black community) and levels the charge of unpatriotic disrespect at protesters despite repeated proclamations that they intend no disrespect for the flag, or of those who serve under it.
Kaepernick made this clear last year when he said, “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. There are bodies in the street and police getting paid leave and getting away with murder…” Initially Kaepernick chose to protest these injustices by sitting down during the anthem; after speaking to combat veterans who supported his aim, but were troubled by his method, however, he heeded their advice and chose to kneel, an action typically associated with respect and prayerful reflection.
My purpose here is not to engage a discussion of preferred methods of protest, or to express views of what is or is not acceptable in the midst of cultural patriotic ceremonies, but rather to explore the posture of heart we – as followers of Jesus – should adopt amidst this cultural discussion.
The reality is, when it comes to the black community – many of whom are our fellow siblings in Christ – Kaepernick’s protest is meant to specifically highlight life and death scenarios experienced they repeatedly face, but with no legal justice for victims or their families. Numerous instances exist of unarmed black men, women and children being killed at the hands of police, with none of the officers involved being convicted as a result, some of whom never even having to face trial as a result of their actions. This is why Kaepernick initiated his protest, though he is certainly not the first athlete to protest in this way.
In 1972 the posthumously beloved Jackie Robinson said, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” You may be tempted to bristle at his words, or to doubt his or Kaepernick’s experience or testimony, but their thoughts, feelings and experiences are far from an aberration and are consistent with a large portion of the black community. As followers of Jesus, regardless of our own ethnic background or skin color, that ought to matter to us (pun intended.)
The truth is, regardless of what you think of Kaepernick’s chosen form of protest, he is “one of us” as a member of the Christian family. He is a follower of Jesus whose actions are directly motivated by his Christian commitment. Kaepernick has spoken openly about this part of his life:
“I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me get to where I am. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field.” So when we consider what to make of Kaepernick’s words and actions, we must do so with the understanding that he is our brother in Christ. And he is not alone.
Our purpose here is not to discern whether the #TakeAKnee protest is one you agree or disagree with, but to focus on what it means for us as followers of Jesus – those who have publicly taken a knee before him as Lord, declaring our exclusive allegiance to him – as we listen to and interact with the hearts, minds, perspectives and experiences of our siblings in Christ when they are driven to take desperate measures to address desperate circumstances.
First, Philippians 2:3 tells us to consider the voice and perspective of our protesting siblings in Christ ahead of and above our own. As Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” In this case that means: instead of arguing with or offering criticism over a chosen method of protest, or encouraging people to address injustice in ways that make some among us feel more comfortable, we ought to humble ourselves and regard the protesters hearts, minds and lives as more important than our own, both because they’re our fellow human beings, and because they’re equal members in the family of God with us.
Second, that same chapter also says, “Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” further emphasizing our need to be actively engaged in considering what our siblings in Christ are saying to us, even if – and perhaps especially when – the way they do so initially causes discomfort. In the current climate what is “of interest” to our black family members are truly issues of life and death, and I would humbly suggest that if concern over the sanctity of a civil nationalistic ceremony, or one’s sense of value for a piece of cloth and the singing of a national hymn is more important than the actual lives of our black siblings in Christ and fellow citizens, then we are – however unintentionally or unwittingly – betraying our allegiance to Jesus, are in danger of nationalistic idolatry, and are betraying our pledge to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Finally, Paul tells us that we are to follow the example of Jesus and take on the nature of a servant. He actually says, “Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” and that we are to do this for our siblings in Christ.
We are called, as a result of our taking a knee to the Lordship of Jesus, to take a knee in the service of others, actively seeking their good at the expense of our own comfort and convenience.
Think of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet: this is to be the attitude and posture of our hearts – and actions – as we consider the cries of our black siblings in Christ.
Taking the knee of allegiance before the Lordship of Jesus means taking the knee of service before his people, regardless of their skin color, political persuasion, or chosen method of protest. “Love your neighbor, as yourself” does not come with caveats. Period.