Choosing Caesar over Jesus

Take a Knee

The response of the majority of white Christian Americans* to the trumped up outrage about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the unjust treatment of people of color in our country has reinforced my view that the religion of the majority of White Christian Americans has more in common with the imperial state religion of the pre-Christian Roman Empire than it does with the religion of Jesus.

Trump/Pence are like Emperors in their Coliseums, insisting the gladiators submit to their rules or they will turn the crowds against them. It is not surprising that they would be upset by people disobeying the rules in their Coliseums. Professional sports are used by people like Trump as propaganda for their state religion of unquestioning patriotism, and they get upset when players and commentators don’t stay on script. And apparently nothing outrages Trump and Pence more than people of color and women not doing as they are told. Trump has been relentless in his calls for players and sports commentators to face professional consequences for their opposition to him, and through a series of tweet storms he has directly called for them to be disciplined or fired.

And what of the response of the majority of White American Christians? They have acted more like the Romans enforcing imperial religion than like the early Christians who refused to submit to it. In stark contrast to the majority of White Christian Americans, early Christians were executed for refusing to participate in acts of civil religion being enforced by the state.

The fact that such large numbers of White Christian Americans are supportive of enforcing symbolic acts of patriotism shows that we just don’t get Jesus. Christianity has been used to protect white privilege and to support nationalism for so long that we have forgotten who Jesus was – a person who was killed unjustly and brutally by imperial powers that were forcing an oppressed group of people to perform acts of patriotism to Rome. Jesus has much more in common with those kneeling in solidarity with the oppressed than with those who would force them to stand or face consequences.

Will the majority of white Christian Americans ever quit letting Trump, Pence, and Franklin Graham play them like a fiddle with their anthem outrage? No one dishonors the flag or national anthem more than the one who attempts to use them to divide the country for which they stand. Attempting to force others to express symbolic acts of patriotism is not patriotic, and it is certainly not Christian. It is, however, something fascists do.

Restricting nonviolent free speech and nonviolent freedom of expression that do no harm is not patriotic or Christian. Forced acts of patriotism make our country less and less like the America of our highest ideals and more and more like the many authoritarian countries that people flee for the chance of experiencing greater freedom and justice. Let this sink in: we now live in a country where the “leader” wants to force all of us to stand and make patriotic signs with our right hands or face the consequences. Sound familiar?

White Christian Americans, Trump/Pence are putting us all through a loyalty test right now, and most of us are siding with Caesar over Jesus. Now is the time for us all to take a knee in solidarity with people of color and all other persons who experience injustice in our country.

* For polls indicating the views of the majority of white Americans on the protests. see here, here, here, and here. Given that the majority of white Americans self-identify as Christian, and given the significant support of Trump among white Christians, the assertion that the majority of white American Christians disapprove of the protests is well-founded.
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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is The Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. From 2009 to 2015, Mark was dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences and Wimberly Professor of Social Ethics at Oklahoma City University. Previously, Mark was dean of the Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University and Founding Director of the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership. Prior to becoming dean of the Wimberly School of Religion in 2002, he was associate dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma City University and chair of the department of philosophy. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University.
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4 Responses to Choosing Caesar over Jesus

  1. Robin Meyers says:

    AMEN!

  2. darrenr says:

    Right to the root of the issue! Thank you!

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