Reflection – 6th July 2020
To Bend the Knee?
One of the most noteworthy news items lately has focussed on the protests against racism in both the USA and in Britain, as well as elsewhere, often invoking the name of the Black Lives Matter campaign group. The origins of the recent upsurge of protest lie in the alleged murder of a black man by a white police officer in a jurisdiction some 3000 miles from here but link in to what is perceived as endemic racism across all Western cultures.
One of the more controversial acts in this campaign has been the adoption of the gesture of kneeling on one knee, ‘taking a knee’, which is similar to a genuflection (without the immediate rising) and has long been associated with Black Lives Matter, though its immediate reference is to the manner in which the alleged murder victim met his end. However, it has also been used in both religious and secular contexts as a symbol of homage and loyalty and it is this, as well as the more political aspects of BLM, which has caused many people considerable disquiet at its use.
Christians, more than anyone, have to be opposed to racism in any form, just as we must be opposed to any of the other ‘-isms’ which devalue people based on a perceived characteristic. This is because, as the first chapter of Genesis makes clear, all humans are created in the ‘image’ of God and with the potential, through the grace of God made known to us in Jesus Christ, to attain to his ‘likeness’. For Christians, the only real distinction that can be made is between those who are baptized and those who are not yet baptized, for all people are called to baptism and membership of the Body of Christ. There is thus absolutely no place for racism in Christianity and, indeed, the very concept is a denial of the Faith.
However, this opposition to racism in no way implies that Christians must agree with all or part of the BLM agenda. Even a rapid survey of its literature demonstrates that it is a deeply neo-Marxist organization, committed to an awfully specific, anti-capitalist, anti-family agenda that many Christians would find uncomfortable, even offensive. Thus, even support for its basic message in no way indicates support for the totality of its programme, which may be perceived as being deeply anti-Christian. Therein lies the problem for Christians living in the modern world.
Christians, whilst having a primary focus on the Kingdom of God, which is not of this world, nevertheless live in the world and are part of it and this is as true for the most remote hermits as it is for the ordinary layperson making a living and raising a family. We are called to work in this world in such a way as to help make the conditions of the world more closely resemble those of the Kingdom, though only God can actually bring the Kingdom into being. Therefore, we create and join organizations of numerous sorts to further these aims. Many of these are not only not Christian, but may even be deeply ambivalent about the Faith, with some even expressing various degrees of hostility to it. Yet most Christians feel that some accommodation with what are often unchristian, or even anti-Christian policies and agendas is necessary to further an important goal. So, whilst not condoning the extreme policies of BLM on other issues, many Christians feel it necessary to support their anti-racist stance and are willing to make the necessary sacrifice.
Yet ‘bending the knee’ in this manner is fraught with danger, as history demonstrates. In 1917, for instance, numerous Russian Christians found it necessary to support the new Communist regime of Lenin because they held the laudable aim of supporting greater equality for all – but ended up in the Gulag in their millions once their usefulness was past. Likewise, a generation later, German Christians often supported Hitler’s Nazi Party because they saw them as being fellow workers in the fight to end the depression, inflation and mass unemployment Germany was facing. Only later – and too late - would they come to realize the true evil of the Nazi’s murderous regime.
We do not even need to look at such obvious examples. Closer to home, we find the very recent example of Stoke’s own Rob Flello, deselected as a candidate by the Liberal Democrats. As a practising Catholic, he opposes both same-sex marriage and abortion, both of which are supported by the Party. In this case, the conflict between a political stance and Christian principles made it impossible for there to be a reconciliation of beliefs.
So, Christians find themselves, very often, being required to ‘bend the knee’ to secular principles which run contrary to Christian ones. Yet Christians can only do this so far, in good conscience. A commitment to opposing the insidious evil that is racism should not come at the price of granting approval to the overall political agenda of a deeply anti-Western organization.
In what is increasingly a post-Christian society, people of faith are, more than ever, having to perform all kinds of tricks of mental agility to continue to support organizations and causes which have often been deeply important to them. Whether this should be the case is open to question. Yet, at the end of the day, if we are at all serious about our faith, we have to place our loyalty to this first, even at the price, as Flello discovered, of damage to one’s career and personal interests. Christ commanded us to take up our cross and, in our modern world, Christians are finding that, increasingly, they must.