Suffer the Children or the Children Will Suffer

By now most of us are aware of something going on at the US-Mexican border. Some 52,000 children have showed up at our back door. Do we let them in?

These children are traveling through Mexico, not TO Mexico. They are not boarding watercraft in a desperate, dangerous flight to Cuba. And they are not traveling south to enter Colombia or Ecuador. They are coming to the United States. Why?

Is it our wealth? Is it the American “dream?” Is it the “lax” policies of the current administration? Or is it something more? I am sure that there are 52,000 reasons, but we as Americans need to answer this question. Why did they come to our door?

And are we responsible for these children?

The crisis on the border is not a political crisis. This is a moral crisis that requires a moral response and solution. In contemporary American politics, the “incursion” of these children has galvanized political ideologies.

The Grapes of Wrath

In Murrieta, California flag-waving Americans greeted three buses of undocumented immigrants, mostly mothers and children, with greetings of “Go back home!” and chants of “USA, USA!”

“It’s not against the immigrants,” Murrieta Mayor Alan Long said to Anderson Cooper. “They’re trying to leave a less desirable place and come to the greatest nation in the world. We can’t blame them for that … No one’s protesting that. What we’re protesting is the product of a broken system that finally reached the doorstep of our community.”

No, Mr. Mayor, you are not protesting a “product.” Your constituents actually look terrified, and your politics trump your morality. You are also breaking the laws of this land. Who’s illegal now?

Jim Wallis of Sojourners invites us to enter those buses and experience the broken worlds of the immigrants. “Imagine the fear in the hearts and minds of young children, all alone in a foreign culture, being screamed at by adults they don’t know in a language they don’t understand.”

His invitation to enter those buses, see their faces, and hear their stories could be an emotional ploy in this ideological struggle. But I don’t think so. This is not an emotional ploy, but an invitation to get out of our gated worldviews and, for a few moments, be the dispossessed journeying to a destination unknown while the outside world fumes.

The Widow, the Orphan, and the Alien

Do our politics inform our morality, or does our morality inform our politics?

Once again, I am not only disappointed with the average Christian response to this humanitarian crisis—I am shocked and truly perplexed. I live in a town that resides squarely within the Bible belt of the American south. Almost everyone I cross paths with claims to be a Christian—until orphans and aliens show up on our doorstep.

First Example: Earlier this summer there was talk of bringing immigrant children to our town and housing them in a college that shuttered its doors this last May 2014. I was excited that we could take care of some of these children in our own backyard. Not going to happen—didn’t even get off the ground. For me personally, I could not believe the comments on social media.

Is this hatred cloaked in patriotism?

Second Example: In early July, I am at a cookout talking with an older Christian man. I do everything I can to steer around political and religious issues. He began, though, to explain to me that “illegal” immigrant children were invading our country, and they might even come to our area. “What’s wrong with that?” I ask. “Well, they’re diseased, and they will bring diseases to our children.”

Is this ignorance based on misinformation?

Third Example: The Federal Government planned to house around 500 children at St. Paul’s college in Lawrenceville, VA. This school has also been shuttered and remains empty. Sheriff Brian Roberts told NPR, “That’s my job (safety) and so 500 kids unaccounted for—illegal alien children in my sleepy little town—I just don’t think it’s the right fit for this community.”

Is this fear of difference and disruption?

Are these Christian responses? Or are they uninformed, non-reflective Christian worldviews fueled by prejudice?

Justice for All

In graduate school, I had a marvelous professor who taught Ancient Near Eastern history. He was a specialist in the socio-political landscapes of ancient nation states. He asked a question that haunts me to this day. He was teaching the history of Ancient Israel and referencing the concept of law in the Hebrew Bible.

“How could you tell that a good king ruled the land?”

I didn’t have a clue. Nor did my colleagues.

After the silence, he continued. “You could tell that a good king reigned in the land if the people took care of those who could not take care of themselves. The possessed took care of the dispossessed: the widow, the orphan, and the alien.”

Then he referred us to the book of Deuteronomy. That’s right—Deuteronomy. “He (Yahweh) executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and he shows his love for the alien by giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18).

In my thinking, this is an essential tenet of a Judeo-Christian worldview. Justice is not a defense against the other, the stranger. Justice in the Hebrew Bible is not concerned about building fences, walls, and gates to keep people out.

Judaism and Christianity, in their finer moments, have been counter-narratives to the prevailing belief systems of the time. Injustice in the name of justice always defends the possessed—that’s just how the world works.

In Deuteronomy, though, justice reaches out, brings in, embraces those who do not “deserve” it. In Deuteronomy, justice is not sanctions.

Justice is sanctuary.

Politics devoid of the ethic of the other enslaves us to an idea. A moral vision invites us to the person.

 

What can we do?

 

  1. Educate ourselves: Read, ask questions, and be willing to question our tenacious, skewed worldviews.
  2. Give: http://lirs.org/housesofwelcome/ as one example.
  3. Ask your congressperson not to revoke Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act 2008.

2 thoughts on “Suffer the Children or the Children Will Suffer

  1. I get super uncomfortable when we’re told there’s only one Christian response to a political issue (yes, despite your claim, it has a very strong political as well as moral dimension). The right did for a long time and now the left is making up for lost time. Your column would carry more weight, IMHO, if you hadn’t set up a group of very flimsy straw men only to knock them down.

    1. Geoff, Thanks for your comment. Most days I probably agree with you more than I agree with my own post on this account. I continue to struggle with this issue knowing that there is no “right” answer that I can see. Perhaps the truth is somewhere between the viewpoints. I have been on both sides of this dilemma even to the point of seeing my extended family sell their ranch in Texas because the border has become so dangerous and porous. And you might be correct on the “straw men,” though it seems to me that the response to these undocumented children has been “hysterical” and irrational to say the least. Who is actually building the straw men here? And I still can’t get past so many pertinent verses in both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Thanks again for your comment. Don