When Jesus Took A Knee

jesus took a knee

The scenes and statements on the NFL fields during the last couple of weeks have been extraordinarily powerful. Moreover, the responses TO these acts of non-violent protests have been equally intriguing and mind boggling. Especially when there continues to be a tremendous attempt to change the narrative of, and purpose for the reason and right to protest. Don’t get it twisted, y’all!! Watch out for the entrapment of shallow and shortsighted patriotism!! Now more then ever, we must STAY WOKE!!! These peaceful protests are not about the national anthem, the military or the flag. They never have been. These non-violent demonstrations by athletes are bout the persistence of pervasive racism, police brutality, economic inequity, and disparity in health, education and opportunity.

Criticism of country is not based on lack of love. Instead, criticism of country is rooted the love for country.

The purpose and power of patriotism is neither in its silence nor its neutrality in the face of ongoing racial injustice, social inequality, and economic inequity. Criticism of country is not based on lack of love. Instead, criticism of country is rooted the love for country. One of our contemporary prophets, James Baldwin, provided perspective when he said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Our history in this country has proven that the best way to protest is from a place of power. Embedded in our heritage is the lesson that the most effective way to protest is from a place of influence.

Colin Kaepernick and his colleagues decided not to allow their wealth to make them indifferent to a culture and country that perpetuates institutionalized racism. They didn’t allow their participation in a sport that is inherently violent to make them numb to a culture and country that justifies state-sanctioned violence. In a league that has been punitive to any kind of individuality or personal expression, and has therefore blackballed Colin Kaepernick, unprecedented unity has destroyed appalling silence. Colin Kaepernick and his colleagues decided to weaponize their celebrity and ability with integrity. These young men made a deliberate decision to employ their profile and platform effectively towards the achievement of a more perfect union. With strategic, focused and non-violent action, these men decided to deploy their privilege and power conclusively towards the achievement of a more just and fair society.

Nancy Armour of USA TODAY captured the movement thus far as follows, “…whether black, white or brown, on bended knee or in locked arms, the NFL’s rare show of unity dignified the condemnation of the wrongs we still must right, and a reminder that, for all our differences , America remains our common ground…players, coaches, owners and league officers united in forceful and unequivocal rebuke of the latest torrent of racism and hate from Trump.” Going from dog whistle to bull horn politics, Trump’s inflammatory and ignorant remarks demeaned the mothers of these athletes by calling them dogs. By dehumanizing the athletes, thus presidency has without doubt reached a new level of indecently.

Bold acts of strategic and non-violent protest, often by black athletes, have a long history in the United States and an equally lengthy and convincing tradition of angering mostly white fans, sports officials and politicians. The companions of these “woke athletes,” on this well-traveled road include inconvenient heroes such as Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ashe. Tennis superstar Serena Williams ended her 14-year ban of the $5 million Indian Wells, Calif., tournament earlier this year. Her boycott was initiated after the Indian Wells crowd hurled the n-word at her and her sister Venus.

serena williamsBreanna Stewart, the 22-year-old WNBA star from the Seattle Storm continues to rail against injustice and inequality, and has publicly backed many causes that challenge sexism and racism. In January she joined protests at Los Angeles international airport over Trump’s islamaphobic travel ban; she has supported the movement for Black Lives, gay rights, and urged equal media coverage for women in sports. Whether yesterday or yesteryear, the potency of these audacious and non-violent protests continue to be both contagious efficacious.

Since the death Trayvon Martin in 2012, “woke athletes” have been using their platforms and profiles to highlight social justice issues much more intentionally, creatively and capably. Refusing to leave their political perspectives and social analyses in the locker rooms, these athletes understand that sports has been, and will continue to be a powerful prism through which we see American and global society. Michael Skolnik, an activist in Brooklyn who often helps celebrities become effective forceful campaigners, says the level of influence wielded by major stars by tweeting, wearing a T-shirt or mentioning an issue in an interview is “unimaginable and unquantifiable”. Whether wearing an “I Can’t Breath” t-shirt or hoodies before their games, the impact of such non-violent protests are compelling and convincing. Changing hearts, minds, attitudes and behavior will continue to take sacrifice, moral outrage and, yes, even disruptive protests that challenge the hypocrisy covered up in a compromised democracy.

As we continue to keep these protests in perspective, it makes me wonder, “What Would Jesus Do? Upon deeper and deliberate discernment, I changed my question to “What Did Jesus Do?” Well, though uncomfortable to some Church folk and Christians, the good news for followers of Jesus is this: Jesus did take a knee!! He took a knee to challenge religious, social and political hypocrisy!! Jesus took a knee to challenge discrimination and injustice. Jesus took a knee for racial and gender equality and economic equity.

In John 8:1-11, Jesus took a knee in protest to the double standards applied to a violated and vulnerable woman: “…(the Scribes and Pharisees) said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent on his knee and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down on his knee and wrote on the ground.[a] 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders…”

The response of Jesus is not so much about the justification of the woman’s act. Jesus’ act of protest is about the bias application of the law. Jesus shows us that our faith is not meant to be a-political. Any faith that seek to be a-political runs the risk of becoming spiritually moribund.” Followship of Jesus is in the direction of racial justice, social equality, economic equity, and a more perfect union!!

When we allow our faith, or our sports to become apolitical, we inevitably allow it to acquiesce to the status quo that perpetuates racial injustice, economic inequality and state-sanctioned violence. Neutrality in the face of injustice is an exercise in futility! Holocaust survivor, Ellie Wiesel puts it this way, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – becomes the center of the universe.”

Through the non-violent protest of Colin Kaepernick, and now that of his colleagues, what happens during the singing of the national anthem has become the center of the universe. Jesus took a knee in protest to gender discrimination and a woman not receiving equal protection under the law. Jesus took a knee to expose implicit bias and the exploitation of women. Jesus took a knee to challenge hypocrisy and double standards. Jesus took a knee in protest to violence justified by religion.

Jesus took a knee to promote the greater good. Whether on the Mount of Olives or the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took a knee to advance God’s purpose of salvation and redemption, liberation and restoration available for all. Let’s make this moment of unity become catalytic in nature, and contribute to the ongoing construction of a forceful and fortified movement for racial justice, social equality, and economic equity. The momentum created by the NFL’s example of peaceful protest can be instrumental in paving the way to even greater societal transformation that’s been long overdue. We can certainly move America from common ground to higher ground!

Rev. Kelvin Sauls

The message of unity can become a message of equality and equity. Until we achieve the beloved community, I’m with Jesus. Until we reach the destination of a more perfect union, ‘I’m with Kap. I’m with Baldwin! I’m with Wiesel! I’ll take a knee!! Will you take a knee?

“I’m not your Negro,”
Rev. Kelvin Sauls
Senior Pastor, Holman UMC
Los Angeles, CA || www.holmanchurch.com