Colosseums, Communion And A Holy Resistance
"In some causes silence is dangerous."
- Saint Ambrose of Milan
Imagine a prolific athlete entering the colosseum to the taunts and jeers of the crowd. He bends a knee and looks to the ground picking the dirt off his cleat. As he lifts his head to stand he is met with all of his critics. Quickly he is barred from the arena and the masses are demanding both his head and his triumphant return. Sound familiar? Who hasn't heard of the charioteer from Thessalonica, right? It's no secret that the story of this charioteer is remarkably similar to Colin Kaepernick.
I want to point out some key differences between the charioteer and Kaepernick before we continue. Theses differences will further drive home the importance of extending mercy and grace:
1. This charioteer was not a good man and was in trouble for attempted rape. He was in trouble for a criminal act of homosexuality. Colin Kaepernick is not in trouble for anything. He simply decided to take knee during the national anthem.
2. In Thessalonica 7,000 people were murdered at Emperor Theodosius' command in the colosseum. In these football stadiums nobody is being killed for their support of Colin Kaepernick.
What we see here is a popular athlete having lost favor with the state. This very state is politically entwined with the church. The Roman public is torn over whether the man should be free or not. Political leaders are condemning athletes from their podiums and the actions of the military are in heavy discussion. In Thessalonica the military is on hand to lull the public into a sense of security while this charioteer is freed. While trapped in their local arena the public is forced then to renounce their opposition to the state or be put to death. Pledge allegiance against your good conscious to the empire or meet it's might. Today, across the United States we're told to stand for the flag or risk losing not your life but your livelihoods. Our political leaders have made it clear that you are to respect the empire even in your times of leisure or meet some form of an end.
How should the church respond?
Saint Ambrose of Milan heard about the dissent in Thessalonica and warned the Emperor to not act in haste. Foolishly, innocent people were killed at Theodosius' hand. Ambrose was not at all happy at the injustice and publicly condemned the Emperor. Though the state and the church were solidly together you still didn't cross the empire. It was a risky move by Ambrose and honestly, it was probably an unpopular move with the church. Why stir the pot when it doesn't concern you? Why get involved when you can keep your thoughts to yourself and maintain the status quo? Saint Ambrose understood that silence in the face of injustice is complicity.
Colin Kaepernick started kneeling because he feels strongly about racial injustice and rising police brutality. He decided to exercise his right as a FREE American to protest. There is no empire to control what he does nor the people who are following in his footsteps. Americans of all walks are in support of and are even calling for his reinstatement. His employment was terminated as a direct result of his politics and views on race relations. Multiple NFL teams have admitted that the protest plays a part in his future employment prospects. Now the President is saying if those "son's of bitches" don't stand for "The Flag" then they should all be fired across the league? As if the state has any say in private enterprise? This is dangerous waters to try and cross in a society built on free speech.
How is the church responding to the protest of injustice? They're waving a tiny American flag behind the giant white flag of surrender that's our credibility. Saint Ambrose should be our model in how we respond whether we agree or disagree with a position. It should be that nobody is silenced but instead heard in a civil manner. Not that anyone should be attacked but instead restored to wholeness in mercy and understanding. The charioteer was an unrepentant rapist but, Colin Kaepernick is a professed Christian. Many in the American church have their lips so firmly planted on the backside of the American government the holy kiss of a brother in distressed is an afterthought.
How many of the pastors in America today would withhold communion from our nation's leaders today? Ambrose was not so weak as our American pastors today. Emperor Theodosius entered the church where Saint Ambrose was the Bishop. As word made it to Ambrose that the emperor was in line to receive The Eucharist he firmly resolve to call him to repent as tension filled the room. Finally, Theodosius and Ambrose meet and bravely the bread and the wine was withheld. Theodosius was barred due to not meeting the guidelines of confession and repentance. He would continue to be barred until he publicly announced his wrong doing and make the injustice right. Instead, we celebrate our injustice and bastardize the repentance required to receive each other at the table.
Right now in America people may not be getting slaughtered in our arenas but they are being murdered in our streets. African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police in the U.S. and are disproportionately killed in ratio to the population. Studies show 1 in 3 black men will end up incarcerated in their lifetime. Much of this is linked to socioeconomic issues of depleted resources in historically African American neighborhoods. It's a struggle to get by and you must make ends meet at any means necessary. That statistic of 1 in 3 chance black men being incarcerated shows the long held understanding that a 2 parent household is key to successful child rearing. 85% of incarcerated youth cite not having a father in the home. Take 33% of a population out of the community and you've created a toxic cycle. This contributes to the poverty experienced in many single parent homes (60%). These communities are being systematically depleted of the very resource needed to help keep it stable. I applaud the athletes who take a knee and do not support a flag that represents so much oppression. 13 stripes are fitting for a flag where the 13th amendment recreates the slave labor of the confederate south. Many of these men in the NFL have by the grace of God created a better life for themselves. Many give back to their communities in ways the state never will.
As the church we should call out the injustice of the state. We should bar those not seeking to repent of their acts of injustice the essentials of the Christian life. They may participate in the assembly but surely the body and blood of Christ which gives life would be wasted on their lips. How can we justify mercy for a criminal charioteer but condemn an innocent man in Colin Kaepernick? May we contemplate the bravery of Saint Ambrose at the Lord's table and may we not be silent in a time where it's too dangerous to do so.