So here’s what I want you to do: Take your everyday, ordinary life and place it before God as an offering. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
from Romans 12:1,2 in The Message
One month ago Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the singing of the national anthem as way of using his platform to call attention to continued levels of police brutality that affects black and brown people in our country. Since then we have seen a wide range of responses: NFL players from five other teams have and soccer athlete Megan Rapinoe joined Kaepernick in protest, support has been offered from a variety of activist groups and, not surprisingly, Kaepernick has faced a fair share of criticism. The particular response that has been most startling to me, as a leader in the Church, is the vehement opposition and criticism Kaepernick has received from some Christian leaders.
Their outrage that Kaepernick is disregarding the authority of the US is particularly confusing to me given that our faith tradition is rooted in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’s life was marked by a questioning and challenging of authorities purity laws, sabbatical restrictions and exclusionary practices. His opposition to them comes to a head in the Matthew 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven against men .. For you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you hypocrites! You tithe but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”
It is important to remember that Jesus’s issues with the Pharisees represent not just an issue with religious authority but also the Roman Empire. The Pharisees allegiance to Roman authorities allowed them to maintain a place of cultural power in Rome. We see this cooperation fully manifested in story of the crucifixion. Jesus’s attention to those who were marginalized by the establishment — the poor, the persecuted, the captives, those who were weary and heavy laden — challenged the authority of the establishment. This way of being was passed onto the early Church who understood, deeply, that they were to be part of the world without conforming to its oppressive ways.
Our identification with the oppressor ended in 318 AD when Constantine outlawed persecution of Christians. Further, we became the establishment in 380 AD when, under Theodosius, all Roman citizens were ordered to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome. Christianity had become aligned with the state. This relationship between church and state continues today in the US. As a nation of immigrants our one common bond was the profession of Christian faith. Despite the supposed separation of church and state the Christian faith has become the culturally assumed tradition – to the point that still, in 2016, it’s assumed that a presidential nominee should be a Christian. Christians, like the Pharisees, have been allowed to exercise a certain amount of power in this country as long as we pledge allegiance to the country.
So we are often afraid to question, afraid to lose this assumed power – even when the US supports the oppression of the poor and persecuted by implementing discriminatory housing laws, failing to require equal pay for equal work, denying equal marriage rights andignoring the brutal terror experienced by black and brown people at the hands of state authorities. Which leaves us, as Christians, far from the model of leadership provided by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
I say all this, fully aware of the gifts that the US holds. I spent four years of my life in Kenya and upon returning to the US I bent down and touched the ground outside the airport. I was so happy to be home, close to my family, with running water, trustworthy law enforcement and a Starbucks on every corner. However, soon after my return I was reminded that not all communities in the US have clean water, not all are protected by police are present and the coffee I enjoy is procured off the backs of cheap labor. It is from this place of tension – loving the US and yet aware of its lackings that I join Colin Kaepernick in yearning for a different nation, one that extols freedom and that, in the worlds of the Episcopal tradition, “respects the dignity of all Human beings.”
Even more so, as a leader in the Church I yearn for a Church that follows in the steps of our forebearers by creating a way of being in the US that reflects justice, mercy, and faith. David Bosch, Christian theologian, writes: The Christian movement of the first centuries was a radically revolutionary movement “and ought to be that today also” but, we should then keep in mind that revolutions are not to be evaluated in terms of the terror they spread, nor of the destruction they cause, but rather in terms of the alternatives they are able to offer.
This is what Colin, who happens to be a professing Christian, did he created an alternative way of being in response to oppression. Colin embodied the Awakened Church. LDI is committed to equipping people to do lead such an Awakened Church. We desire to see people who have the courage and the skills to lead the Body of Christ in our work of questioning the status quo and developing an alternative communities in our context today. On November 12th, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, we are hosting a workshop in which we will explore sources of pain and oppression in our communities and discern ways in which we can respond to this oppression. We will learn how contemplative prayer and community organizing practices can enable us to be the Church. Register here to join us.
May God give us grace to hear where She is calling us and courage to follow.
In the Blessing,
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PS. Other rad faith leaders who are also supporting Kaepernick: