On several occasions during the past weeks, I have commented and asked questions regarding the new policy of President Trump that separates children from their parents along the southern border of the United States of America. Several people have asked if I don’t hold the parents accountable for putting these children in harm's way and bringing them across the border. My answer is, “I certainly do.” Here’s what I mean.
Among the stories that form and shape our faith, there are certain stories that rise to the level of paradigms. Paradigmatic stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament are told again and again to shape the faith of a people. Two of those faith-forming stories directly address the responsibility of parents protecting their children.
The first is the story of the Hebrew parents of a newborn son in Egypt who placed him in a waterproof basket and hid him in the tall grasses of the Nile because Pharaoh was threatened by the Hebrew slaves due to their large population (Exodus 2:1-10). He had ordered the murder of infant Hebrew children. It was an early example of population control. Pharaoh's daughter, who was bathing in the river, heard the baby cry, found him, and rescued him. She named him “Moses,” meaning “drawn from the water.”
I hold the parents of Moses responsible for placing their son in harm’s way when a tyrant was murdering Hebrew children. They took extraordinary steps in desperate hope that his life would be spared. He grew up to lead God’s people out of the slavery into which he had been born.
The second story is found in the Gospel According to Matthew (Matthew 2:13-15). Mary and Joseph had a son and named him Jesus. After the visit of the Magi, King Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, “in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (Mt. 2:16). Joseph had a dream in which an angel warned him to flee (Mt. 2:13). So, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus across the border into Egypt to save him. The life of Jesus was spared while Herod slaughtered many innocent children.
I hold the parents of Jesus responsible for placing their son in harm’s way when a tyrant was murdering Hebrew children. They took extraordinary steps in desperate hope that his life would be spared. He grew up to bring salvation not just to his own people, but to all people for all time.
Beyond these biblical paradigms, there are other stories of parents putting their children in harm’s way in desperate hope that their lives would be spared. For example, English Colonists came to North America in the 17th an 18th Centuries fleeing tyrannical monarchs and undesirable conditions in England. Others colonists came also from other countries, seeking a better life.
I hold the parents of those colonial children responsible for placing their children in harm’s way when conditions in their homelands had become unbearable. They took extraordinary steps in desperate hope that their lives would be spared and their future brighter.
History is replete with accounts of parents fleeing danger and tyranny to save their lives and the lives of their children. These parents crossing our border have similar stories. Many of these families are walking and hitchhiking across Mexico in desperate hope of reaching the United States of America, where they will seek asylum and a new and brighter life. I hold them responsible for that.
In the past, our government has normally kept families together in detention facilities while their cases were being processed. The exception has been in those instances where minor children appeared to be in physical danger or were unaccompanied. Under this new policy, all children have been separated and placed in 100 detention facilities in 17 states, to remain there for an unspecified period and without a plan to ensure that they will be reunited with their parents.
The President has signed an executive order to halt his earlier policy of separating children from parents. However, some 2,300 children and youth still remain separated from their parents, some under one year of age.
Borders are the invention of human beings, not God-ordained. While I do hope our government finds reliable and just ways to secure our national borders, I don’t believe God cares about borders. However, I do believe that God cares about how we treat people who cross our borders.
There are at least 97 passages of Scripture that address the treatment of foreigners. Here’s one: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 19:33-34). The protection of the rights of aliens under the United States Constitution is grounded in that Scriptural admonition. In numerous instances, God’s people are admonished to care for foreigners, widows, and children. Jesus became indignant when his followers were trying to keep children from him. He commanded them to bring the children to him, “For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mk. 10:13-16).
In our Baptismal Covenant, we vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” I don’t see how I can honor those vows and stand silent while these children are being separated from their parents.
Those persons who are trying to bring order out of this chaos and care for these children are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances. It is the separation from their parents that I believe is causing them harm, not the actions of their caregivers. I raise my voice to call upon our elected officials at every level and in all three branches of government to end the practice of separating children from parents whose only crime is crossing the border of our country.
Attorneys and jurists are pointing out that these actions are not proportional to the crime. I join my voice with theirs.
Elected officials are challenging the use of children to leverage immigration legislation. I join my voice with theirs.
Historians and social scientists are calling our attention to the similarities of statements about criminals among the undocumented immigrant population and historical accounts of the Jim Crow era in our country. They are insisting that lies and hyperbole must not be used to foster fear and bigotry against a class or race of people. I join my voice with theirs.
Physicians are speaking out about the harmful medical and psychological effects of “captivity trauma,” which these children are experiencing. They are calling for an end to this harmful practice. I join my voice with theirs.
Our Presiding Bishop and most Bishops Diocesan, including our own Bishop Brian Seage, have spoken out against the policy and denounced it as immoral. Leaders of many other religious bodies have also denounced the policy and called on the government to return those children to their parents. They are also condemning the heretical misuse of sacred Scripture to justify the actions of the state as “ordained by God.” I join my voice to theirs.
I hold these parents responsible for putting their children in harm's way in desperate hope of saving them and giving them a better life. That's what responsible parents do! For Christians, the family is sacred. This issue is, for Christians, first and foremost a spiritual and moral issue. It has become political because those values have been violated by our political leaders. It's not "who we are."
Our government leaders have the ability to uphold our laws, protect our borders, and ensure that families are not separated. It doesn’t matter what political leaders put such a policy in place or what political party you belong to. The policy is contrary to the Scriptures and teachings of our faith. Please join me in calling on our leaders to find better, just, and effective ways to secure our borders.
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
St. Andrew’s Cathedral