I was born and raised in a conservative, middle-class white family. I consider myself a Republican and I love my country. I have been given incredible opportunities because of the freedom our soldiers have offered me. I have been able to worship in my church without fear. I have been given the wonderful chance to get my GED and attend a great university. I have been given the luxury of pursuing my dreams. However, as grateful as I am for my life, the reality is that not everyone in this nation has been given access to the same opportunities that I have taken for granted. I have learned that it is easy for someone to deny the existence of something until they encounter it face-to-face, which is exactly what happened to me.
I worked with Muslim refugees this summer and realized that America wasn’t the same “land of freedom” for them as it was for me. The refugees I worked with were SIVs (refugees with special immigration visas). They were brought to the United States because their lives were in danger because they fought terrorism in their home countries. I had the great honor of seeing a family that had been in hiding for years take their first steps on American soil. While they are now free from terrorist oppression, they face a different kind of tragedy: profiling from American citizens.
Even though these people sacrificed their livelihoods and homes to bring freedom to their countries, most American people label the refugees as the very people they were fighting against. After any global terrorist attack, the refugees I worked with would retreat into their homes until the dust settled. They knew that everyone would look at them as if “ISIS” was embroidered in red on their shirts. America did not represent the same liberty for my refugee friends as it did for me: a middle-class, white Christian citizen.
If this kind of racial profiling is still going on in America, does the white middle-class have the right to question the legitimacy of the cries of our fellow citizens and friends of color? I will admit that when I heard students were going to kneel and pray at the Toilet Paper game, I was skeptical at first. My grandfather was in the Navy and my uncle was in the Marines. I understand the importance of defending our freedom and the price so many soldiers and their families pay. As I wrestled with my thoughts, I realized that kneeling and praying at the game was not a conflict of interest between respect for my country and love for my minority friends. Our flag stands for our freedom, right? If our soldiers are dying for our freedom, then aren’t we doing them a disservice by not giving freedom to all? Aren’t we limiting their sacrifice?
I knelt in prayer because I respect my flag and the freedom it represents. I respect the sacrifice of our soldiers. I respect my friends of color. Most importantly, I knelt because my allegiance is to something greater than my country: the kingdom of God. Our country is flawed. No matter how much we try to ignore our history, the fact remains that our country was built upon the broken backs of immigrants and slaves. History has shaped our current cultural attitudes towards immigrants, refugees, and citizens of color. It is time for Christians to mourn the brokenness of our country and to be agents of change and unity. The kneeling at the TP game did not cause division; the act of kneeling brought attention to a division that was already there so that our student body could take steps toward unity. Political affiliation aside, the King of Kings has commissioned His people to defend the orphans, care for the foreigner, and be near to the broken-hearted. We are not called to judge the legitimacy of someone’s pain. We are called to be the living images of Jesus, the man who made people uncomfortable by loving those that society had rejected and oppressed. Instead of picking sides based on politics, let us elevate the conversation to how we can best love one another and unify the body of Christ.