Prairie View

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Being Quiet

My Facebook feed is full of pictures and opinions about professional athletes "taking a knee" while the national anthem is being played before a football game.  I was weary of the opinionated madness expressed on this topic long before it started.

The stripe of Mennonites I identify with were once known to be the quiet in the land.  Eventually some of us realized that being quiet sometimes amounted to being complicit in unsavory activities, and that being faithful Christians sometimes meant speaking out or taking other unquiet action.  I see the wisdom in this, and applaud efforts to relieve suffering, to protect the vulnerable, and to point the way to Christ.

I am increasingly wary, however, of efforts to defend people's actions in spheres where people like us don't really belong to start with.  In my estimation, the sports world is certainly such a place.

I have no doubt that our 16th Century Anabaptist forefathers would gape in astonishment that any of their spiritual descendants would become mired in robust defense of nationalistic fervor--in sports arenas, of all places. Long before the 16th century, in the first centuries after Christ, when Christians were present for sports-as-entertainment events, the Christians were the spectacle--not the spectators.  The spectators cheered at the spectacle of Christians being torn apart by hungry wild beasts. or as they faced gladiators, or were otherwise cruelly sacrificed,  Nationalistic fervor in a Roman arena often meant death for Christians.  For Christians to flock to arenas for sports-as-entertainment would boggle the first-century Christian mind.  To criticize an expression of conscience that is seen as a departure from nationalistic fervor would boggle the 16th-century Anabaptist mind.  Both of them boggle  my mind.

There's another side to this, of course.  We'd all like to avoid being viewed as unpatriotic.  Not only that, we feel grateful for the freedoms that we enjoy and would like to express that freely.  We do appreciate all those who work in public service roles with integrity and honor.  We'd like to be able to do that, while acknowledging honestly--in our own minds at least--that what we enjoy is not everyone's experience in this country.  In hyper-politicized minds, the latter simply can't be done without being pejoratively labeled.  That's a pity.

In short, in the sports world, and in the nationalism realm, Anabaptist Christians can be faithful, I believe, to God and to their faith heritage by simply recognizing that we don't have required roles in those arenas.  When matters like "taking a knee" arise, going back to being the quiet in the land is the most sensible option of all.  I recommend it.


Immediately after I posted the above, I saw the following on Facebook.  It was originally posted by Gerald Mast and shared by Rachel Stella.  A woodcut from the Martyrs Mirror accompanied the post. In 1553, an Anabaptist street vendor in the Dutch city of Bergen op Zoom named Simon de Kramer was selling his wares when a public parade for the communion host began marching down his street. As a protest against the idolatrous conflation of divine and human authority represented by this civil religious ceremony, Simon refused to kneel with the people around him. The Martyrs Mirror says that "according to the testimony of God presented in the holy scriptures (he) would worship and serve only the Lord his God." Simon was captured and sentenced to death by the "enemies of the truth", led outside the city and burned to death. The bailiff who had Simon executed soon became sick with remorse and sorrow and could not be comforted or restored. According to the Martyrs Mirror account, the bailiff "died in despair, an instructive and memorable example to all tyrants and persecutors." Resisting idolatry and tyranny sometimes involves standing when people think you should kneel and sometimes it involves kneeling when people think you should stand.


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