This weeks column in Christian Today was inspired by the photo of Keir Starmer and his deputy Anglea Rayner ‘taking the knee’ and then this one of the bishops – not bowing before Christ, but bowing before an ideology.
I have seen plenty of people ‘taking the knee’ – Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner in a carefully staged photo, for example, and then in contrast to that, another of a demonstration in Oxford where every demonstrator bowed the knee – except Peter Hitchens who stood imperiously alone above the crowd. (In the interests of accuracy Hitchens responds that the crowd were asked to sit down and raise their fists – and it was an activist who tweeted about him not bowing the knee – although he does say he would have done neither)!
Why this trend for bowing the knee? Or its sister: tearing down monuments and getting rid of non-PC cultural icons from the past? The idea is that in bowing the knee we are showing solidarity and apologising for past crimes against black people. What should the Christian response be? Some Christians are keen to join in. Surely we should all be supporting Black Lives Matter? After all black lives do matter. Other Christians respond by saying that ‘all lives matter’, but that is missing the point. Saying black lives matter is to simply say that black lives matter as much as anyone else’s.
As Christians, we need to listen most of all to God speaking through his Word. Racism is quite simply sin – sin against our fellow human beings and ultimately sin against God. All human beings are made in the image of God. The idea of race is a social construct, not a created ordinance – “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.”
We also need to listen to our history and our black brothers and sisters. This article from the Christian hip-hop artist Shai Linne is an example of some of the writing out there which should enlighten, move and humble us:
“So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, ‘All lives matter.’ Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.”
Black Lives Matter
I agree and, as I said above, racism is a sin. But I won’t be taking the knee – and I won’t be joining the BLM marches. I did think about it. I went as far as looking up the time for the Sydney march and thinking that I should probably go. But then I thought some more – and investigated what the BLM movement is. Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan; it is an organisation – one which is fundamentally anti-Christian in its ethos and methods. So why should I support it?
Let me put it this way: if there was an organisation which campaigned to prevent child abuse do you not think we should support it? But what if that organisation was a far-right organisation that was using the issue to virtue signal and garner support for its political cause? Should we all be emotionally bullied into supporting that organisation because not doing so would somehow be taken to mean we supported child abuse?
The Binary Choice?
That’s the logic I’ve seen from far too many Christians and even Christian leaders. “You don’t care. You’re a racist because you don’t support BLM or think that tearing down statues is a good idea. You’re not listening to our black brothers and sisters.” Or how about some of the passive aggressive language which some Christians have mastered. This one is a classic example (written to another David in public): “Christian friends, please feel free to pray with me for David’s heart that it would soften on whether or not he can say that out loud in this current moment, without qualifying. It’s important to do so as a Christian, here and now.” The message is loud and clear: if you don’t agree with my political views you clearly have a hard heart and are a bit of a coward – if you are even a Christian!
If people actually read the BLM manifesto, I think it would cause most to shudder. Apart from a radical commitment to transgender ideology, they are lined up with every regressive cause championed by the godless. Take for example this statement: “We’re guided by a commitment to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures that disproportionately harm black people in Britain and around the world.” You can read the whole manifesto here.
BLM is also a violent and oppressive movement and, I think, fundamentally racist at its core. The dream of Martin Luther King, that no more would anyone be judged by the colour of their skin, is long gone. They believe it is necessary to judge everyone by the colour of their skin. If you are white then you are an oppressor, you suffer from ‘white privilege’ and you must bow the knee. If you don’t, you will be named and shamed. Why is it often wealthy white middle class people (as in the recent demonstrations at Oxford University) who are shouting the loudest ? Might it be because they think they are atoning for past sins, or perhaps they have a sense of their own inherent righteousness compared with other white people? One thing is for sure: privilege for them, like protest, is only skin deep. They are not going to give up the privilege of their wealth to help the poor. So no, I won’t bow the knee to such hypocrisy.
The Revolution Eats Itself
But surely if we go along with these demands it will show that we care, and then the brave new world will be ushered in and we can all get on with our lives in a more just world? That’s not how revolutions work. They eat themselves. The BLM have no end goal, just endless demands. They will always demand more and if you don’t agree, then out comes the racism card. Destruction is easy. Construction is much harder.
Notice how the statues movement and the replacement of cultural symbols has accelerated. My word limit won’t permit me to list them all, but here are a few that the cancel culture has succeeded in bringing down in the past few days. Little Britain, Gone with the Wind, and even Fawlty Towers. Statues of Abraham Lincoln, Baden Powell, Robert the Bruce, Robert Peel and Churchill have all been vandalised. Who will be left? Surely Keir Hardie, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Roland Dahl, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Shakespeare must all go? What about Plato, Aristotle and Socrates – the ancient Greeks who believed that slavery was essential to a society? Or Mohammed? It’s interesting that the BBC article on slavery in Islam points out that “the Prophet Muhammed himself bought, sold, captured, and owned slaves”, although they do attempt to show, in the context of the culture of the day, that he was a ‘good’ slave owner.
But don’t expect logic, history or nuance to affect the actions of the mob. George Orwell foresaw what would happen when ruling cultural elites and mobs combined to rewrite history. In words that seem prescient for today he wrote in 1984:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
It’s the hypocrisy that sticks in the throat. If we really are going to hold institutions today responsible for the sins of the past, then the Guardian newspaper for example, strong in its support of the statue destroyers, would itself be in trouble. Its founder made a fortune in the cotton trade, supported the Confederacy in the Civil War and attacked Lincoln for freeing the slaves. Should the Guardian be cancelled too?
No, I won’t bow the knee in order to submit to the demands of the BLM organisation, nor will I do so as a sign of my own virtue, nor because of the pressure to do so from the current cultural zeitgeist.
Why I Will Bow the Knee
But I will bow the knee to Jesus Christ. Because he is the only hope for our fractured and breaking society. I have seen nothing more encouraging that this video from Tim Keller and Bryan Stephenson showing that justice and the Gospel walk hand in hand. Indeed, justice is ultimately the fruit of the gospel.
Justice, not mob rule. Justice, not more money. Justice, not political power. That is the crying need. “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20, NIVUK.)
When as a teenager I visited a friend’s home and we were all sitting in the living room after our meal. “We’ll take the books,” said the father. I wondered what that was, but it soon became clear. Much to my astonishment and embarrassment, out came the Bibles and Psalm books and we read and sang. But it’s what came next that is forever ingrained on my mind. As we finished with prayer, every single member of the household, including the father – a strong, proud and intelligent man – got on their knees and together pleaded with the Lord for grace and mercy.
I contrast that with the photos of the politicians bowing the knee for a photo op and I ask: what does our society need more – those who bow in fear and pride before a political cause, or those who bow in adoration, confession and humility before the triune God?
What a joy – and a shock – it would be if the leaders of our nation called upon us all to have a day of prayer and repentance. Given that the leaders of the Church seem unable to take that step – it’s probably a bit much to ask – we can but believe in miracles.
In the maelstrom of voices all around us, let’s make sure we hear and act upon the voice of the Lord, who said: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com