Taking a Knee and Standing Up

As the start of the NFL season approaches, the practice of kneeling during the playing of our national anthem by some NFL players is once again, front and center. The searing effect of this form of visual protest has been magnified by the events in Charlottesville and its aftermath.

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick (former NFL quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers) was the first NFL player to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. He did it, not out of disrespect to our flag or those serving in the military, but as an expression of peaceful protest against the racism and inequality that persists in our nation. Even as other African-American NFL players have joined in this protest, there has been sharp criticism directed at these for doing so.

Only African American players have “taken a knee” during the playing of our national anthem. Until last week. On Monday night, in the Cleveland Browns’ preseason game against the New York Giants, Browns tight end Seth DeValve became the first white NFL player to kneel during the playing of our national anthem. Seth DeValve is a lifelong Covenanter. Seth’s story is shared below, as reported in the online version of our denomination’s magazine, The Covenant Companion:

“Cleveland Browns tight-end Seth DeValve, a lifetime Covenanter, became the first white NFL player to kneel with his African-American teammates during the national anthem on Monday night prior to the team’s game against the New York Giants.

DeValve grew up attending Trinity Covenant Church, in Manchester, Connecticut. Last year, he married his wife, Erica, who is African-American.

Until Monday night, only African-American players had sat or kneeled during the anthem in order to bring attention to racism in the country. DeValve said he and his teammates were praying during the anthem. The 12 team members made the decision as a group prior to the game.

In an interview following the game, DeValve said: “It saddens me that in 2017, we have to do something like that. I personally would like to say that I love this country. I love our national anthem. I’m very grateful to the men and women who have given their lives and give a lot every day to protect this country and to serve this country, and I want to honor them as much as I can.

            “The United States is the greatest country in the world. It is because it provides opportunities to its citizens that no other country does. The issue is, it doesn’t provide equal opportunity for everybody, and I wanted to support my African American teammates today who wanted to take a knee.

            “We want to draw attention to the fact that there are things in this country that still need to change. And I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now. So I want to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also just draw attention to the fact that we have work to do. That’s why I did what I did.”

The courageous African-American NFL players who have used this form of peaceful and prayerful protest as a way to draw attention to the racism and inequality that persists in America today have now been joined by Seth DeValve. By taking a knee they are not disrespecting our country or its military. Rather they are prayerfully protesting that America is far from being a land of equality for all. By taking a knee they are taking a stand for justice, for righteousness, for fairness . It is the place where the Church, and all followers of Jesus Christ needs to stand, faithfully and always.

The evil of the white supremacist message on full display in Charlottesville (and spewed on social media 24/7) cannot be tolerated. It must be resisted, opposed and unequivocally condemned for what it is: a philosophy and message of hatred, violence and evil. First Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN) released this statement following the events in Charlottesville:   “As we reflect on the show of hatred and racism in Charlottesville, we are deepened in our commitment to the gospel of Christ, which affirms that all are made in the image of God. We stand against racism and pray for the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth as in heaven. May God’s Spirit open our hearts to see each other as beloved, especially as and whenever racism and other prejudices cloud our vision.” To this I say Amen!

Seth DeValve has shown the way to take such a stand by means of peaceful and prayerful protest. His protest, and his eloquently simple explanation of it, is powerful. Especially for those of us who are part of the majority (white) culture, we must not ignore the sin of racism that is crippling the country we all love. The Bible and the Lord Jesus demand that we find ways to proclaim and work for justice and equality for all human beings, remembering that each one is created, equally, in the image and likeness of God.

So let’s remember Seth DeValve’s witness. And also these words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Amen. Pastor Greg