For Rev. Nathan Hollifield, it was important to wear his vestment to Sea-Tac Airport Saturday.
Hollifield, the 35-year-old pastor at Fircrest United Methodist Church, was one of thousands of demonstrators who made their way to the airport to voice loud opposition to the executive order on immigration President Donald Trump signed last week. The order, which sparked demonstrations across the country, indefinitely halted immigration from Syria and temporarily suspended immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries.
Hollifield brought his young daughter with him to the airport. His wife — who just happened to be returning on a flight that day — soon joined them. He wore his robe to make a statement.
“It’s a powerful symbol, but it’s also a true reflection that I’m not simply there as my own person, but I am there as a representation of the gospel of Jesus,” he said.
Within the airport, the crowd swelled as reports varied on the number of travelers and refugees who had been detained as a result of Trump’s executive order. When the largely spontaneous act of resistance turned from demonstration to what Hollifield describes as an act of civil disobedience, with peaceful demonstrators effectively shutting down the airport for a period of time, his wife and daughter went home.
But the pastor stayed.
“I don’t have a soundbite answer for that,” Hollifield told me when I asked him why and what compelled him to be there.
“I’m not speaking necessarily as a pastor, although I do serve in that role,” he continued, after taking a moment to collect his thoughts. “Just as a follower of Jesus, I am called into a long line of a faith tradition that sees every person — every person – as a beloved child of God. … I was just positioning my body — my physical body — in the midst of the poor and the vulnerable and those who are being oppressed by systems of domination of power.”
“I didn’t go out there to be rammed by a battering ram of police officers carrying bicycles. … I did go there to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus — a gospel of inclusion, a gospel of peace, and ultimately, a gospel of compassion.”
I was just positioning my body — my physical body — in the midst of the poor and the vulnerable and those who are being oppressed by systems of domination of power.
Fircrest United Methodist Church Pastor Nathan Hollifield
Urban Grace Pastor Ben Robinson also was at Sea-Tac on Saturday night. Like Hollifield, he came dressed in his church attire, a symbolic decision made with purpose.
“The reason I was there in a clerical collar was because I think it’s really important that the churches are represented as standing up for refugees, for immigrants, for the people that God calls us to love,” Robinson told me.
“I think that we, as people as faith, need to show that we take our Scripture seriously, and that we are putting our Scripture in a space above the political alliances of whatever party we might be,” he continued. “This isn’t OK. We want to show that.”
This is where we find ourselves, with a varied alliance of concerned citizens from all backgrounds, now on the front line, forced to stand up for what’s right.
And this goes far beyond politics. Stinging critiques of Trump’s executive order on immigration haven’t come just from the left, whether it’s former state GOP Party State Chairman Chris Vance warning “It’s time to wake up and understand the threats we face,” or Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham saying Trump’s order sends the message that “America does not want Muslims coming into our country,” and that it may “do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Hollifield, through his faith and his history, is a perfect example of the way resistance to Trump’s executive order has the power to unite unlikely allies. Before becoming a pastor, which he has described as “the spiritual awakening of a former political operative,” Hollifield was a Republican who worked for the re-election of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2004. Later, Hollifield was in the administration’s office of political affairs.
“What I saw on Saturday, as the crowd began to build, was a community of thousands who were not protesting Trump, per se,” Hollifield said. “We were participating in a peaceful demonstration, to put our own bodies in the place where we could say, ‘If you’re going to oppress these legal residents trying to re-enter our country, you’re going to have to get through us first, because we stand in solidarity with those who the government is trying to oppress.’ ”
The good news: The demonstrations late Saturday and early Sunday morning at Sea-Tac were not isolated events, nor were they simply the actions of leftist agitators. Hopefully, they were a sign of something bigger, potentially more significant.
The cold reality: They will need to be. Or we’re in deep trouble.
“I do think that you’re seeing people who have never been engaged in politics before becoming engaged, because they sense that this goes beyond political ideology,” Hollifield said. “There’s just something deeply important about us all being human, together.”
For Kent Thomas, a 26-year-old University of Washington Tacoma student who also works with teens as a youth counselor, driving to Sea-Tac airport late Saturday night to take part in the demonstration was out of character. And as events unfolded, which eventually included the prospect of arrest, Thomas says he worried about what that might mean for his education and his work with kids.
If I was in the refugees’ place, of being in some new country, and in some room, I would want people to do whatever they could to help me get out.
Kent Thomas, Sea-Tac demonstrator
Video — which has since been distributed widely — shows Thomas being pulled by police to the ground, an officer kneeling on his back while others zip-tie his hands.
Still, looking back, Thomas says he has no regrets.
“If I was in the refugees’ place, of being in some new country, and in some room, I would want people to do whatever they could to help me get out,” he said.
The disturbing actions of Trump in his first week as president can either divide us further, or — as Hollifield, Robinson and Thomas show — bring us together in solidarity and in defense of humanity and this country’s values.
There’s still room for political disagreements, but sometimes, certain moments call us to something greater.
This is one of those moments.
And rest assured: History will be the judge of how we respond.