CREDIT: "[African-Americans kneel on sidewalk outside City Hall in Birmingham, Alabama protesting racial segregation]." United Press International telephoto, 1963. Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. CREDIT: Lyon, Danny, photographer. "[Civil rights activists occupying a lunchroom counter during a sit-in]." [between 1962 and 1964]. Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.
Racism Theology

Taking a knee is a more Christian statement than refusing

Contrary to the belief of some, taking a knee is not idolatry and is not in contradiction to any teaching of Christ. Indeed, taking a knee is a more Christian statement than refusing to. For all my misguided White and/or Christian brothers and sisters, here’s why:

Firstly, taking a knee does not originate in 21st Century America. Rather, taking a knee has its roots in the 1960s civil rights movement. Specific examples include the Birmingham campaign of Martin Luther King where kneel-ins were organised. During the same period, it was not uncommon to see civil rights protesters take a knee in the face of violent confrontation. What were they doing? Praying in the name of Jesus. Blessing those who cursed. Defying the principalities and powers of racism by submitting to God.

Secondly and more recently, in 2016 Colin Kaepernick – the US NFL player – picked up on this same imagery in order to protest: US police brutality, the nationalism of President Trump’s Whitehouse and the racism of the Star Spangled Banner national anthem (a song which contains the words “No refuge could save the hireling & slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O’er the land of the free & the home of the brave).

Today, in light of the cruel murder of George Floyd where the weapon of choice was the knee of a US Police officer, taking a knee in non-violent protest against systemic racism inherits all the meaning of its history. Therefore, for Dominic Raab and others to suggest it is “a symbol of subjugation and subordination” is the height of ignorance, victim-mentality and xenophobia. Ignorance because it is so patently unaware of the history; Victimhood, because contrary to some suggestions, it positions the majority in the place of the oppressed; And xenophobia because such comments are patently afraid of “subjugation” of the other. Considering xenophobia literally means the fear of others/foreigners, such comments represent a clear example.

The fact that some refuse to say “black lives matter” or seek to dilute such an affirmation of life with “all lives matter” or worse still blue or white lives matter on a skewed principle of false equivalence remind me of Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s words written from Birmingham jail:

“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding feom people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Rather Romans 12:13 and other scriptures exhort us to “practice hospitality”, which means so much more than cooking food and hosting. Rather, hospitality is translated from the Greek philoxenia, means love of strangers and guests. The opposite of xenophobia (Compare the first half of this verse “contributes to the needs of the saints” with “seeks to show hospitality”). In other words, support the family of faith and be kind to those different to you (See also Gal 6:10, Heb 13).

This continues the Old Testament tradition of hospitality in the law: ‘(The Lord of Lords) executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.’ (Deut 10:18) and “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong/oppress him/harm him” (Lev 19:33)

And the prophets: ‘For Jehovah will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the sojourner [that’s so many of us!] shall join himself with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. (Isa 14:1)

And culminates in the person of Jesus Christ who commands us to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Luke 10:27) and who “Himself is our peace…” and has “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” between us (Eph 2:14)

Therefore, suggestions that taking a knee as an act of submission to God and in defiance of evil is idolatry are: historically wrong, biblically unfounded and theologically weak. Instead, we should take a knee and/or support those that do precisely because we are Christians.

That’s why Ephesian 3:13-19 says:

“I ask you not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I ask that out of the riches of His glory He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then you, being rooted and grounded in love, will have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

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