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‘Every Knee Shall Bow’

Sam Coonrod, a Christian ballplayer, wouldn't take the knee on opening day. Is he some kind of heretic?
MLB: AUG 27 Diamondbacks at Giants

Here’s a dopey controversy. Sports Illustrated writer Dan Gartland is put out with San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sam Coonrod. Why? Well, why do you think? Read:

Coonrod was the only player on the Yankees, Nationals, Dodgers or Giants to stay on his feet while everyone else knelt. He stood out like a sore thumb.

Asked to explain himself after the game, Coonrod cited his religion.

“I meant no ill will by it,” Coonrod told reporters. “I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I’m just a Christian. I believe I can’t kneel before anything but God, Jesus Christ. I chose not to kneel. I feel if I did kneel I’d be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

If a central tenet of Christianity is treating others with love and respect, it’s not clear how not joining a call for just that would be hypocritical. But Coonrod also said he took issue with the substance of the statement.

Coonrod explained that he dissents from some of the things the Black Lives Matter organization stands for. None of that is good enough for Dan Gartland, though. Note well that Gartland’s original text (now changed) read: “I don’t go to church much anymore, but I’m pretty sure the central tenets of Christianity are …”.

This is so stupid, especially in a national magazine. Gartland’s level of understanding of, and curiosity about, Christianity is about at the freshman dorm level. “I thought Christianity was about loving people, so I don’t understand why Christians believe,” etc. If Coonrod were a Muslim, and he politely declined to eat something with pork in it that was offered to him, would Gartland say, “I thought Islam was about being kind to others, so it’s not clear how turning down a hot dog on opening day is sacrilegious”? Of course he wouldn’t. He might have even troubled himself to spend two minutes Googling to find out why a practicing Muslim would not be able in good conscience to join in an act that others participated in.

This is a small thing, maybe, but it’s an example of media ignorance about religion, bordering on bigotry. Bigotry, in the sense that a journalist for a national publication is holding a Christian player up as a bad example, while making no effort to understand why a believing Christian might be uncomfortable kneeling for anything that is not God. Personally, I don’t see it as being obviously sacrilegious for Christians to take a knee in these protests, but I do believe Christians should not be doing it. Still, if a Christian believes that it is permissible to take the knee, I would not judge him for it. Actually, I think one could have a really good conversation about why or why not a believer can take the knee.

But an ignorant journalist who presumes to tell other people how to practice a religion that he (the journalist) no longer practices makes those conversations a lot more difficult.

The Coonrod-Gartland thing is another example of why it’s so difficult to talk about racial conflict and religion today. Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal, in the  Journal ‘s summer fundraising letter, goes deep on the topic:

Y’all know that I’m a longtime subscriber to the Journal, and that I can’t possibly recommend it strongly enough for thoughtful Christians. You can learn more about what the Journal is, and what kinds of questions it seeks to explore, here. 

I wonder how many people who profess to be Christian share the same understanding about taking the knee that Dan Gartland does. Let me be clear: I am not talking about Christians who disagree with Coonrod about whether or not it is permissible for Christians to take a knee for something other than Christ. I am talking about Christians who haven’t considered the issue beyond Christianity is about treating others with love and respect, so what’s Coonrod’s problem? This is what Ken Myers is getting at, if I’m reading him correctly: the very framing of these issues relies on a modernist conception of religion that is irreconcilable with what the phenomenon of religion is in much of the world, and what Christianity was until the modern era in the West.