By Jonathan Bremer
In the United States freedom is prized above all else — and the privileged in society have enjoyed an unparalleled ability to express their individual opinions and ideas with little concern of retaliation. Whether that freedom is exercised religiously, emotionally, or creatively, specific groups are free to enjoy them as they please. American soldiers fight to defend the idea of freedom. That said, not everyone is permitted to participate in this freedom. In the United States, social justice activists fight for the rights and freedoms of the voiceless and the marginalized. Our leaders even fight with each other over who deserves to share in the rights and freedoms with which we are blessed. For some, complete freedom is rendered an idea rather than a reality. This is crazy to think about in a nation that claims to be a safe haven for the oppressed.
There have been times throughout our history that we have exercised our freedoms responsibly. Other times, however, our nation has infringed upon the freedom of specific groups and conveniently veiled our actions under the guise of respecting our freedoms and freedom-fighters. A recent example of this can be found in the controversy surrounding kneeling at sporting events. This movement was sparked by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in peaceful protest to the inequality and social injustices experienced by Black people in America. Both politically and spiritually the nation was, and still is, split. Some claim this showed blatant disrespect for American veterans and the sacrifices they made for our freedom. Others have allied with their Black brothers and sisters in Christ and knelt with them.
As this example shows, our self-drawn political lines have crossed into the church and created separation within a body that was designed to be whole. Jesus himself laid out the two greatest commandments in Mark. This passage says,
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28-31).
The fact that Jesus himself placed so much emphasis on loving our neighbors makes me wonder why we don’t focus on this area more. Ironically, our stalwart defense of individual liberty has resulted again and again in the persecution of another group seeking those same liberties. This prioritization of self above others has directly contributed to the political and religious divide we are experiencing today. As Americans, we are expected to be hard-working, independent and patriotic. As Christians, we are called to love others unconditionally and communally. But sometimes, we get so focused on our political agendas and allegiances that we forget to fulfill our duty to love others first. In other words, as Christians, we have put our commitment to country before our commitment to Christ — and It is apparent that our priorities need reordering.
If we are to call ourselves “Christ-followers” then we need to strive to model him in our behavior. How we reflect Christ is indicative of what we value. If we place more value on loving our neighbors than we do on being right, that is going to directly translate to our witness and our political decisions.
Putting our neighbors before our patriotism actually helps inform our politics. It allows us to see the world from the eyes of our neighbors and think about their needs before our own. It makes us less egotistical and it allows us to act selflessly and generously. We are called to stand by and with our brothers and sisters of color, because they too are invaluable members of the body of Christ. We are called to walk through life defending the marginalized and the voiceless, picking them up and supporting them in the face of trials. It is time to step out of the silence and speak out. Loving and defending your neighbors should always take precedence over personal safety and comfort.
This isn’t a question of left or right. It isn’t a problem of kneeling or standing. It is, however, about loving others more than ourselves and seeing people the way God created them. It’s about putting people above patriotism. It’s about choosing Christ over country.