‘Taking a Knee’ for a Troubled Nation

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By Dr. James Tonkowich, a Senior Contributor, The Stream, Sept. 28, 2017

Jim Tonkowich“Taking a knee” during the National Anthem is protest in the NFL. That, it’s posited, will show Donald Trump, brutal police, capitalists and/or racist America.

How strange.

Let’s be clear. “Taking a knee” is what a quarterback does to run down the clock at the end of a game his team is winning. Everyone else is just “kneeling down.” And can it be possible that none of America’s elite athletes or members of the media are aware that kneeling down is a universal sign of submission?

Subjects kneel before their queen. Slaves kneel before their master. Believers kneel before God and one day everyone else will as well (Philippians 2:9-11).

What do they teach in the schools these days?

The answer is, of course, relativism, post-modernism, and identity politics. And that sword, as theologian and editor R.R. Reno points out in the October First Things, cuts both ways.

Commenting on the protests in Charlottesville, Reno writes that white nationalist Richard Spencer “sounds like someone who has read Mein Kampf and Queer Theory, studied intersectionality, and recently attended a conference of corporate diversity officers.” That is, the white nationalists are using precisely the same intellectual categories and patterns as Black Lives Matter, the gay and trans activists, and the rest.

Those living inside the postmodern house of cards want to assert dignity and worth of all while excluding those they dislike

Everyone identifies with his or her group as over against every other group. It’s blacks for the blacks, gays for the gays, transgendered for the transgendered, and whites for the whites(?!). Aye, there’s the rub.

Identity Politics Are Still Identity Politics

The Christian can look at identity politics and declare it the intellectual house of cards it is, false to the very foundations. Every human is made in the image of God and has, by his or her nature, dignity and worth. Thus, even as Jesus by the incarnation was in solidarity with one and all, we are in solidarity with one and all. This is the necessary starting line for the common good, common laws, national unity and evangelization.

Those living inside the postmodern house of cards want to assert dignity and worth of all while excluding those they dislike — white nationalists for example. But, alas, there is no valid reason within their framework that allows this.

Thus, Reno points out, Richard Spencer “can frame his agenda in terms of our present politics of grievance and victimhood, casting ‘whites’ as disenfranchised and scheduled for ‘replacement.’ Given the way that so much of our public life has been colonized by identity politics, his white nationalism may end up having an appeal beyond the lunatic fringe.”

Human Beings Are Wired for Truth

That last part is terrifying. These new advocates of blood and race are not the sad, unpopular high school dropouts we hoped they’d be. They’ve received what modern secular universities offer and they’re putting it to use. That may appall their left-wing professors. Professorial identity politics does not include white nationalism. Nonetheless white nationalism is entirely consistent with the intellectual Kool-Aid they drank up in those professors’ classes.

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Human beings are wired for truth. By our nature, we search for meaning. Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey’s four worldview questions occur to everyone and demand answers: “Where did we come from and who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? What can we do to fix it? How now shall we live?”

We long for answers even if we’ve been taught to believe that there are no answers. Those who tout relativism and toleration most vociferously will stridently tell you that white nationalists and others should not be tolerated. Humans cannot endure the bland nothingness of no binding truth. Given time, we will either find something or make something up. And if the truth we find is not the truth of Christianity, the possibilities for evil are as plentiful as they are alarming.

There is Much in Common to Protest

Granting that in this muddled day and age “taking a knee” is a sign of protest rather than homage, there is much in America to protest. While the list varies vastly from left to right, there are plenty of ills we might find in common.

Perhaps Christians should visit our local churches and “take a knee” in homage and humble supplication for a troubled nation.

And that last prepositional phrase, “in common,” is critical. The politics of my group v. your group will inevitably end in violence as it did in Charlottesville. Common good doesn’t even manage second place to my good and the good of people like me. And the justice everyone demands is reduced to what the foolish Thrasymachus told Socrates in The Republic. “Justice,” he said, “is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” Life and politics are then nothing more than the struggle to be the stronger in order to get my way and squash your way.

In such a struggle, there’s no telling who might win. Nor does it matter since any way it turns out, we all lose.

Perhaps the best response for Christians is to visit our local churches and “take a knee” in homage and in humble supplication for a troubled nation.


Dr. James Tonkowich, a Senior Contributor to The Stream, is a freelance writer, speaker and commentator on spirituality, religion and public life who has contributed to a wide variety of opinion websites and publications.

He is the author of The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today from St. Benedict Press and Pears, Grapes, and Dates: A Good Life After Mid-Life. Jim also serves as Director of Distance Learning at Wyoming Catholic College and is host of the college’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar.”

Jim and his wife Dottie have been married for nearly forty years and are enjoying life around the corner from their son, his delightful wife and three fantastic grandchildren. Jim’s articles and essays can be found at JimTonkowich.com.