Since I do not watch football, I might be a bit behind. On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 24, posts about standing or kneeling littered my Facebook feed. They seemed to fall along political lines. To the right, people criticized a disrespectful protest. To the left, people decried institutional racism and racial profiling. I scrolled in this netherworld and saw despair. True despair.
Rodney King responded to the 1992 Los Angeles riots with the immortal words, “Can we all get along?” The riots were a response to the court acquitting the officers who were charged with excessive force in King’s arrest. The answer for King’s question seems to be, “No. We cannot all get along.”
The Washington Post contrasted responses to Colin Kaepernick and Tim Tebow. Much of the kneeling was in response to comments by President Trump. Two days earlier, he used colorful language to urge NFL owners to fire players who protest. According to CBS News, the players knelt in response to the president’s comments. According to Fox News, the outrage relates to respect, not race.
Again, and again, humanity finds ways to maintain conflict. On Facebook, the people who criticized those who knelt are probably not aware of their white privilege. The people who knelt likely do not realize how dear the others hold the flag or national anthem. Emotion has clouded the issue. Instead of taking an honest look at the other person’s perspective, each side doubles down on its argument. For the right, the flag is worth honoring and protecting. For the left, racial issues tear at the fabric of what it means to be human. Which one is right?
Imago Dei reminds us that God makes humanity in God’s image. Genesis 1:26-27 summarizes this concept. “Let us make humanity in our image. … So God created humanity in [God’s] image.” Or this could bring to mind the equity in Paul’s theology. Galatians 3:28 diminishes distinctions. “There is no longer Jew or Greek … slave or free … male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” If everyone is equal in God’s sight, then people should be able to exercise mutual respect. Fruitfully discussing differences should be the norm, not throwing barbs at each other.
When institutional racism threatens the humanity of an entire race of people, human action denigrates imago Dei. Thus, we should fight racism. So, should everyone take a knee?
The United States has national symbols and norms. Citizens generally respect these symbols and norms. So, should everyone stand?
The United States also has freedom of speech, so soldiers and sailors fought and died in wars to protect that right. People are allowed to say disagreeable things. They are allowed to think divergent thoughts. We have no thought police, aka Thinkpol from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. So, should we ignore whether people stand or kneel?
Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Instead of kneeling or standing, what are we doing to be instruments of change? On social media, people get riled up. They cast stones back and forth, never recognizing the flaw. Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). If people are made in God’s image, they are worth empathy. They are worth trying to walk in their shoes and see the world from their perspective.
When we criticize someone on the other side, we lose sight of the log in our eye (Matthew 7:3). Conservatives, we can re-situate the conversation so that it is not about the flag, but about injustice. Liberals, we can respect symbols yet continue fighting racism. Together, we can make a difference and view the other as created in the image of God. To Rodney King, I say, yes, we can get along, but it is hard work.