Have you been made aware of the situation at the southern border? Suddenly we have been gripped by stories of children separated from parents. We have seen a father reach the depths of despondency. When separated from his wife and children, in the custody of our government officials, he took his own life. He struck out across the border in hope. He arrived to horror.
The separation of children from parents in this delicate situation requires a comment, especially since the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, gave his own response to the “church folks” who raised an alarm.
Without moving completely into an immigration debate, I only want to point in the direction of the address by the Attorney General and the conditions at Casa Padre, the converted Wal-Mart shelter where nearly 1500 boys are being held.
With a glib nod of his head, Jeff Sessions quoted Romans 13 and pointed to the number of verses in the Bible that prescribe following the law. Sessions described the acts of lawlessness that demand a consequence. In this case, crossing the border illegally results in the punitive separation of children from parents. The “Zero tolerance” policy requires agents at the border to follow the parameters of these “laws” without equivocation.
I don’t want to take issue with the law. It is what it is. If it is to be changed, it is up to the citizens of our country to make that change.
I take issue, however, with the attitude of the Attorney General during the press conference. His demeanor had no requisite empathy for those who have been separated. It looked to me that he almost enjoyed pointing back to the Bible for the poor folks who had so badly missed, by way of his understanding, the point that Scripture is making. At the very least, he could have channeled a manipulative emotional response that tugs at our heartstrings while acknowledging the truly difficult legal situation that he is required to pursue.
The Attorney General must do his job and follow the law. I expect as much. By addressing the concerns of those in the church and speaking to them, Attorney General Sessions attempted to speak on behalf of Christians in a way that justifies the inhuman treatment of children. Alluding to Romans 13 and pointing to the rule of law does not address the way in which this country has chosen to terrify those who cross our borders. They may have broken a law. That doesn’t mean we should punish them in this way.
I’ve studied Romans at the highest level in the academy and preached the text from the pulpit. There are many devoted Christ-followers who point out that this text in Romans may be treated as an ironic piece or a passage that is in the voice of one of Paul’s opponents. Rarely do people suggest that Paul was such a fan of the empire as to require absolute obedience to the Emperor. Even if Paul is pointing toward a well-ordered community that abides by civic laws, Paul knows that at the heart of the Empire is a flawed theology that he cannot abide.
So much for that. A truly Christian response to the way in which children are treated at the border must begin with the acknowledgment of injustice. People don’t risk their lives for the fun of it. They become desperate for a better life. The response of Jesus to children was clear: welcome them and do not hinder them. In fact, to trouble a “little one” is to invite disaster on oneself. Following the pattern of Jesus, should we not show families hospitality, even if our laws prevent permanent residency?
But must this situation be this way? Can we not envision a way forward that allows for the care of parents and children in light of the request for asylum? Have we become so focused on agenda items that we have completely lost site of the purpose of our civic discourse? If we are required to follow such “laws” it is by no means required that we dole out “consequences” with such thoughtless inhumanity. Casa Padre has been compared to a prison. Go look at the twitter feed.
So I too must respond to the characterization of Scripture in support of such “law keeping.” Not all Christians use the Bible as a sledgehammer. Scripture, the witness to the revelation of Christ, is replete with calls against the abuse of those who are already facing oppression. “A bent reed he shall not break.” The Bible teaches that the supreme characteristic of any follower is love. The supreme characteristic is not affection, not friendship, and not a banal collegiality, but self-sacrificial love. What possible justification is there for this crass dismissal of human persons, who have been created by God and who have sacred worth, from among those who are supposed to understand what “love” is supposed to look like?! Consider that the people announcing such measures also purport to be “pro life!”
What is missing? Missing is compassion. Missing is vision. Missing is the sense in which we, as a country, can make the world a better place for everyone. I would appeal to the conservatives and ask how this articulation of the law and this following of the law is pro-life? I would ask the capitalists how restricting the work force and limiting the kinds of jobs people might have is good for the economy? Wouldn’t a capitalist with a heart want to create new jobs and new sectors of the economy for these people who desperately want a better future, not necessarily a handout? Shouldn’t our government, through a quick and deliberate process of inquiry regarding asylum, seek to elevate the lives of those who seem intent to come to our country? Have we regressed to thinking that a parent (in this case several thousands of parents in six weeks) would use children as pawns to secure something for themselves? Where is a broad vision of incorporation that speaks to the hope, faith, and love we share as a country? Certainly we can do better than all this for the least of these.