“If anyone among you wants to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.” There are so many bad interpretations of what Jesus means when he says that. But to the early church, it was clear. Taking up your cross meant refusing to offer sacrifices to Caesar and facing a death sentence as a result. The martyr Ignatius of Antioch would be horrified to learn that American Christians are excoriating a man for refusing to stand during what is blatantly the modern-day equivalent of offering sacrifices to Caesar. When Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, he is embodying precisely what taking up Jesus’ cross looks like in 21st century America.
This is what spiritual warfare looks like. There is not a more perfect gesture of Christian nonviolent resistance than to kneel while the lovers of empire stand. It makes a spectacle of our worldly powers. The foamy-mouthed anger that it provokes is God’s judgment against our empire. This is what cruciform authority looks like.
Many white Christians are infatuated with authority. The kind of authority we prefer is the kind that has worldly legitimacy in the form of a uniform and worldly power in the form of a gun. When Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, he judges our idolatry of worldly authority in precisely the same way that Jesus’ cross judged the Roman Empire’s authority.
I’m not saying that people with uniforms and guns can’t be Christian. I’m just saying that their uniforms and guns do not give them any authority in the kingdom of God. The cops and soldiers I know are actually some of the most humble people I’ve met. It’s the fawning groupies who worship uniforms and guns that have stopped being Christian.
White supremacy is a deep cancer within the American church. It’s kind of like pancreatic cancer that gets to stage four before it’s detected. It has metastasized everywhere. The white church’s understanding of criminality, poverty, the common good, sexuality, and just about every other moral issue has been shaped decisively by white supremacist self-justification. We’ve lived through centuries of praying the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple: “I thank you God that I’m not like those violent thugs and welfare mamas and lazy deadbeat dads on the black side of town. I deserve everything you blessed me with because I worked hard in school and didn’t have premarital sex and avoided the wrong crowd.”
We are the ones who need to be defeated by God. We are the ones Jesus needs to save the world from. And the way the lamb of God will make war against us is through an army of kneeling protesters who drive us into hysteria by calling out our sin. Jesus’ cross is supposed to offend us in precisely the way that we’re offended when uppity black quarterbacks “disrespect” our sacred song of empire. If we’ve made his cross into a nifty formulaic consumer product like every other aspect of white middle-class life, then it no longer has the capacity to save us.
I don’t know about you, but Colin Kaepernick’s simple gesture makes me want to give myself more fully to the kingdom of God. I have no idea where he’s coming from religiously, but Jesus is using his left knee powerfully right now to rescue Christians from our perverse entanglement with white supremacist empire. We should all be taking a knee and repenting of our sin.