This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Standing and Kneeling.

As a follower of Jesus, my main concern is discerning how he would respond to situations we face today, and acting accordingly.  Hence, in a controversy like this one over whether professional athletes should stand for the playing of the National Anthem, or “take a knee” in protest, considerations like “respecting the flag” or “free speech” don’t mean that much to me.  I have to consider what the Lord Jesus would have me do based on what he himself does and teaches.
  1. In the New Testament I find no record that the Lord Jesus ever participates in displays or rituals of patriotism.  Did he stand in respect every time a Roman army unit went by?  As a Jew he could not possibly have accepted or recognized the graven images of eagles that they carried.  What we do know is that he was criticized by establishment figures for his lack of patriotic fervor in adhering to the Law that constituted his own people’s national identity.         
  2. He was forced to stand when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod.  But his words to them, if he speaks at all, reflect and express humility, dignity, honesty, courage, and trust in God.  He pointedly denies their authority over him, even as they engineer his death.
  3. He says that if you want to participate in the emperor’s system you should expect to be made to pay what the emperor demands (Luke 20:25a).  But we should rather worship and serve God alone, not conceding the Emperor’s claims at all.  “Give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25b) he says; and it all belongs to God (Psalm 24:1).
  4. The Lord says that his followers should, when someone in the gospel community offends them, bear witness to the offense privately.  If there is no restitution, the matter should come before witnesses, culminating with the entire group.  In other words, if someone in the church comes and tells me I am harming them, I am bound to repent of what I was doing and make amends (Matthew 18:15-17).  Extending this to society generally would mean that if my neighbor testifies to an injustice I am committing, I am bound to take their word for it and change my ways.  Arguing with them and/or changing the subject are excluded.
  5. We know that Jesus always sided with the violated, oppressed, excluded, sick, disenfranchised, and abused.  Always.  (Eg. Matthew 25:31-46)  
We’re talking about football and other sports.  These are spectacles of entertainment, competition, and sometimes violence.  (It reminds me that for early Christians attending gladiatorial events was forbidden.)  The practitioners are often well paid, at least at the highest level.  In some sports, especially football, they incur some physical risk.  Many came out of poor backgrounds, or are members of minority groups.

We’re also talking about the arbitrary addition of a patriotic ritual to these events, which has nothing to do with anything about the game itself.  It is a mystery to me why we do this, except that it became a tradition sometime in the early years of baseball, probably around the time of World War I, is my guess.  And once you start doing something like this it immediately becomes nearly impossible to stop doing it without offending someone.  (Churches know this all-too-well, as national flags started appearing in worship spaces around the same time.)  This worked, I suppose, when a majority and their leaders could impose a common story on everyone.  

The problem we have now is that this common story is unraveling.  It is unraveling because of the facts which are now allowed to come to light, which had been suppressed.  The main fact, according to the testimony of Mr. Kaepernick, who began this silent protest, is rampant bias and brutality against members of the African-American community on the part of the American criminal justice system.  This is undeniable.  It is also nothing new.  But technology has advanced to the point that we now witness it on a regular basis.  Obviously, the  communities victimized by it always knew about it.  But now everyone does.

In a choice between participating in an arbitrary display of patriotism, and identifying with oppressed people, there simply isn’t any question at all which side Jesus is on.  The New Testament offers zero instances of the former, while Jesus does the latter all the time.  Not only that, but he is himself a victim of the same kind of brutality on the part of law enforcement that is chronically inflicted on poor and minority communities (Mark 15:17-20).

At the same time, it is hard to imagine Jesus having any interest at all in professional sports (although he has deep compassion for the people involved).  But he could very well suggest that, like with Caesar’s money, if you’re going to participate in Caesar’s spectacle you should expect to pay Caesar’s admission fee.  Even so, he sides with the hated and reviled, rejecting the claims of power and pride.