*Please note the earlier post misidentified the quote by Rachel Held Evans; in this version, it is corrected.
So, I love football–it’s hard to grow up in Denver & not love it; and after the Broncos’ Super Bowl win last season, I’m still in the post-victory glow. The season kicks off on Thursday–with a Bronco game (rematch of last year’s Super Bowl), and so I’m tuned back in to ESPN and other sports networks in a big way, looking forward to the fall.
So, of course, then, I have been reading about Colin Kaepernick, and his refusal to stand for the national anthem at the 49ers preseason game on August 26th. His statement read, in part, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. This is bigger than football…”
Think what you want about his action, but for me, what really got me thinking was a retweet by Rozella Haydee White [originally from Rachel Held Evans] that said, “The early church would be utterly baffled by the idea that future Christians would shame someone for not swearing allegiance to the empire.” This really struck me, not only because she is right, of course, but because of how 20th/21st century Christianity has been so co-oped by those who want to bind it inextricably to patriotism, such that being a good Christian means being a “good” American–and by that, they mean supporting an “America First” mentality and all that such thinking entails.
This, of course, is demonic–and I don’t use that word loosely. When the church allows itself to be used as a tool of the state, it loses its prophetic power of both denunciation and annunciation; that is, it is no longer able to speak against systemic sins on behalf of the marginalized, oppressed and exploited, and is instead made complicit in the agendas of the powerful. When this happens, the church ceases to be church, pure and simple; instead, it becomes just another larger organization protecting and preserving its own place in the status quo. This is a constant temptation for the church, one that we must constantly and vigilantly guard against. It is a very natural human impulse to want security, stability and safety, and the powerful seem to offer those very things, there for the taking–but make no mistake, the cost is high: one’s very identity, one’s soul.
A few days later, Kaepernick and his teammate, Eric Reid, took a knee before last Thursday’s game–and US women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe echoed the gesture before her game on Sunday. That got me thinking, too: Do you know why athletes in a wide variety of sports “take a knee”? They do it when a player goes down and it’s clear s/he is seriously hurt. It is a sign of respect, concern, and recognition that something is really wrong. When viewed that way, I thought that Kaepernick’s “taking a knee” during the anthem makes all kinds of sense, because he is saying the exact same thing about our country: “With respect and concern, please pay attention, because something is really wrong.” Maybe we should all take a knee.