By Marv Knox
A historical maxim insists: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Hold that thought.
Beginning early last month, the United States of America separated more than 2,300 children from their parents when they crossed the border with Mexico, seeking asylum. The Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy—designed to deter illegal entry into this country—triggered the crisis.
Tragically, that crisis was disproportionate and unnecessary. The heinous separation of children, even infants and toddlers, from their parents lacked any sense of scale compared to the punishment leveled against other misdemeanors. And the U.S. government did not need to tear families apart in order to process the parents according to the dictates of law.
Presidential policy adviser Stephen Miller called the edict a “simple decision.” Maybe it was simple if your sole purpose was to stop immigration by Latin Americans fleeing horrible violence—threatening them with deeply personal harm that isolates and traumatizes their children. But it was not so simple for anyone with a moral compass or perhaps a heart.
Beyond the specter of children torn from their parents’ arms, the other horrifying aspect of this moral tragedy was the shameful fact people who claim to be Christians perpetrated the atrocity. Implementation of family separation rested with President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen—all avowed Christians.
Square that with the life and teachings of the Christ whose name they embrace. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). He also insisted how people who claim to be his followers treat “the least of these”—the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned—is how they treat him (Matthew 25:34-40).
Attorney General Sessions defended the family-separation policy by citing the Apostle Paul: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established ...” (Romans 13:1). This interpretation presents several problems. Most obviously, it quotes Paul to contradict Jesus. However, Jesus trumps Paul. Citing the apostle out of context to defy Jesus is, well, unChristian.
What are we to do now?
The president has signed an executive order halting his administration’s separation of children from their parents. So, the immediacy of the crisis is abating. Still, we face other tasks:
• Tell our lawmakers we expect them to overcome partisanship and write legislation to prevent a repetition of this national sin. Our mercurial president could have changed his mind as you read this paragraph. We need stronger bipartisan solutions to this and other problems. Border security is a valid concern, which they should debate. But securing borders never again should be equated with separating families. Tell them to keep families together.
To find out how to contact your senators and representatives, click here. (https://whoismyrepresentative.com)
• Show up and speak up. Pay attention to immigration news from your area or region, particularly rallies and events designed to protect immigrants and their families. People of faith, particularly Christians and Jews, stand upon a long and rich legacy of caring for the most vulnerable people in any society. These definitely include immigrants and children and people identified as “other.” Jesus called them our neighbors. Stand up for them in your community.
• Pray. As the family separation scenario unfolds, pray for the children and their parents, asking God for peace and comfort and speedy reunification. Pray for the guards and social workers and others assigned to care for the children, asking for patience, kindness and energy. Pray for the president and his administration, asking God to turn their hearts toward decency and compassion. Pray for Congress, asking for bipartisanship, discernment and courage. And pray for the nations these immigrants are fleeing, asking for peace and stability.
Separating children from parents is not good. It reflects something not good about America. But millions of Americans want to believe our nation is great. If we stand up and demand that she start by being good again, greatness will take care of itself.
Marv Knox is field coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network.