Where Taking a Knee and Taking a Life Differ

Reporters and academics appealing to the Bible – have we gone back to Christian America? To see arguments over the Bible’s meaning that implicitly accept its authority is mildly amusing if only because the whole endeavor is so patently selective. Do reporters ever write stories about the Fourth Commandment and Christians playing in the NFL? They might if it turned out the chaplains running devotionals for football teams were part of President Trump’s team of religious advisers.

Anyway, the recent kerfuffle over Romans 13, political authority, and immigrants was another window into the weird world of Donald Trump. At Slate, Ruth Graham wrote about Jeff Session’s invocation of Romans 13 to explain law enforcement — as in, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” Of course, she threw in for bad measure opposition to the American founding (from John MacArthur), defense of slavery, and submission to Hitler as further examples of Romans 13 interpretation. She does not consider that pitchers batting in the National League, submitting tax forms by April 15, or using physicians licensed by the state as other instances of honoring civil government and the rule of law.

Still, the stunner in the piece was the idea that martyrdom only made sense if Christians refused to honor and obey the law:

Romans 13 goes on to command the early church to “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Arbo pointed out the importance of the clause about giving what is owed, which allows for the possibility that some authorities are not owed honor and respect. “If Sessions’ interpretation of Romans 13 were followed, it would render martyrdom meaningless,” he said. “If the Christian were always in every instance to honor the authority’s command then as a result there would never be an instance of dying for allegiance to Jesus Christ.”

I understand that part of what makes martyrdom possible is refusing to obey the law. A Christian may not disobey God to submit to Caesar, though the rationale for disobedience may not be as straightforward as the civil disobedient thing.

Still, the kicker is that martyrdom also makes no sense unless the state has the authority to execute those who disobey and uses it. You may refuse to bow before the emperor’s statue and the authorities decide not to prosecute you. If the United States required standing for the National Anthem, Colin Kaepernick would have been guilty of breaking the law. But for him to become a martyr, the state needs to use its bearing-the-sword authority to execute law breakers. Also required is that Kaepernick submit to death, another way that someone may honor the state and submit to law. Defiance does not simply make someone a martyr. Running away from executioners . . . . well, you get the point.

So as much as the administration’s opponents might like to think that this government is dishonorable, they need to see that only if the executive branch has legitimate power and uses it will those who defy it become martyrs.

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What Does It Profit a Lineman if He Preserves His ACL and Loses His Soul?

If you want to know what it was like living under King Manasseh, consider the following: evangelical Protestants are more worried about football’s effects on breaking bones than they are about football players breaking God’s law.

One of the amazing accounts of Israel’s sorry history is the reform effort of King Josiah. Don’t get me wrong, oh you sons of the obedient boys. Josiah’s reforms were terrific. What’s amazing is how far God’s people had descended:

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. (2 Kings 23:4-7 ESV)

That’s just for starters.

But how different is the state of U.S. evangelical Protestantism when you consider the priorities included in this piece about the dangers of football?

The inherent dangers of the sport should not and cannot be taken lightly—but all athletic endeavors come with risk, and thankfully every level from the NFL to peewee football leagues are taking large strides toward improving safety. They are developing better equipment, technology, and practices. They are ushering a better, safer football game onto fields across the country.

And yet, American kids are more likely to be watching the game on the couch or playing Madden on the Xbox than running around playing pickup games. With many schools reducing physical education requirements, only one in four young teenagers (between ages 12 and 15) get the recommended one hour of exercise a day, according to federal health statistics. In a culture that is rapidly becoming more sedentary, we can be grateful for athletic heroes who encourage kids to get out there and play. The NFL’s Play 60 program promotes daily physical activity to young fans. Such campaigns are immensely valuable and something we as Christians should consider promoting as well.

All parents—Christians or not—have to figure out if we’ll encourage our own children to play football, and we know that each year more of us hesitate to put our kids in youth leagues. It makes sense to proceed with caution. But especially given how few kids will end up going pro, we can weigh the decision with the positive impacts of playing team sports: learning how to win and lose with grace, respecting coaches, teamwork, good sportsmanship, and the benefits of exercise. We can also take practical steps, such as ensuring that our kids know the warning signs of injury, and that their coaches are certified through USA Football’s Heads Up program.

I have hope in the experts shaping the next generation of players for an even better football experience for them and for the fans. I believe in the power of this sport, and I believe that it has a valuable place in our culture. We can see its impact pulsing through American stadiums, sports bars, and living rooms.

I can’t think of another institution that provides the instant camaraderie (or fierce rivalry) as football loyalties. I also just enjoy watching it—it’s fun! The pageantry, tradition, and on-field drama give us unique entertainment in a way that only unscripted and live sports can.

I’m sorry, but if evangelicals are going to fret publicly and select officials on the basis of their concerns about upholding the sixth commandment (the sanctity of human life), or the seventh commandment (marriage), or the second great commandment — love of neighbor (immigration reform) and not worry about the fourth commandment (worship and rest from secular activities), why in heaven or on earth should I take them seriously?

Why Not Simply Cite God's Law?

Our Virginia correspondent sent word of a reminder from the deities of the NFL to churches about legal and illegal Super Bowl festivities:

(1) Churches may only show the game on equipment that they regularly use for worship. They may not bring in additional rented audio-visual equipment.
(2) Churches may not charge admission. They are, however, allowed to take donations to defray party expenses.
(3) Churches may not record or further retransmit the broadcast of the game.

Apparently the separation of church and state does not extend to football and church.

If the NFL had simply reminded Christians of the need to keep the Lord’s Day holy, they could have cut through the fine print. But this way, the footballers get the best of both kingdoms (which is not a good thing if you are certain church in Laodicia).

Can Drinkers of Bad Beer Read Roman Numerals (even when sober)?

One of the blessings of being a sabbatarian is the removal of the temptation to watch the Super Bowl. Yes, if the home team happens to be there I may revert to the Jewish conception of the sabbath day ending at sundown. But the NFL has become so bloated (and mediocre along the way thanks to the salary cap), and the championship game has become such a venue for sports executives and television sports producers to think they can put on a show as good as people the people in Hollywood, that I’m just as happy to have a religious excuse for not wasting my time. Think about it, halftime is the worst part of any football game and the only reason to put up with marching bands. But now the NFL allots forty-eight friggin’ minutes to a silly attempt at extravaganza (silly because they still incorporate cheerleaders and baton twirlers — at least last time I watched). Can that much time really be good for the teams and their rhythm? Are people watching the game to see Bruce Springteen or Bono, or would they prefer to have their concert and their sports cheering as separate experiences, sort of like keeping rock ‘n’ roll out of worship.

But what strikes me as the best example of the NFL’s hubris is their tired and foolish tradition of designating each Super Bowl with a Roman number. This year is XLV, which if my ancient numbering is correct tallies up to 45. Yes, we have had forty-five Super Bowls. Big deal.

Does anyone know how many World Series Major League Baseball has conducted? Or what about the Stanley Cup? At least the other major leagues have the good sense to designate their annual championship by its equivalent year and not try to dress it up in something Ben Hur might see, though the NFL’s desperation may stem from their status as the newest kids on the championship block.

Here are the respective totals for baseball, hockey, basketball, and football.

World Series — begun in 1903 with a total of 106 championships (two years were cancelled).

Stanley Cup — begun in 1927 with a total of 84 championships.

National Basketball Association Finals — begun in 1947 with a total of 64.

Super Bowl — begun in 1967 with a total of 44 (and counting).

I do know that the NFL had championships before the Super Bowl. But those don’t count because they don’t have Roman numerals.

Sixteen Reasons Not To Watch the Super Bowl

Tom Brookshire
16. Remember the Sabbath day.
15. Keep it holy.
14. You have six days for all your work.
13. The Sabbath belongs to God.
12. Don’t work on it.
11. Don’t let your son work on it.
10. Or your daughter.
9. Or football players.
8. Or cheerleaders.
7. Or advertizing executives.
6. Or broadcasters.
5. For God made the world in six days.
4. Then he rested on the Sabbath.
3. For that reason he blessed the Sabbath.
2. And made it a holy day.

And the number one reason not to watch the Super Bowl. . . .

1. The Eagles aren’t playing.