When I was six years old I was forcibly removed from my biological mother.
After an ill-conceived attempt to move to Sinai, Egypt by way of the Bering Strait, I stood next to my mentally ill mother Toni in the city hall of Seward, Alaska. Toni had switched motor oil and gasoline in our car, which, unsurprisingly, had killed it. We parked the car for a few days while we stayed with a family of strangers, who kindly allowed this scrawny kid and his bizarre mother into their home. When we returned to retrieve the car, we discovered that it had been impounded and we were asked to speak to the authorities at city hall.
While Toni spoke to some police officers, a woman came and asked to talk with me outside. A few moments later, I found myself in the car of my new foster family. I sobbed as we drove to their trailer home on the outskirts of the town. Toni and I never had the chance to say goodbye. We never saw each other again.
Although the circumstances are very different, I know a tiny something of what the 2,342 children at our southern border are experiencing. Being separated from the only parent you have ever known is something that will affect you for the rest of your life. It causes irreversible trauma that will alter how you see the world and change your ability to have relationships. I was fortunate to be in a position where I had therapy as a child, as well as an adult. Although being reunited with Toni was unwise, I did find my way into the care of extended family, as well as a foster family that would adopt me as their own.
We can’t say the same things of the children at the border. The harm that is coming to these children due is unjust, immoral, and internationally criminal. I know from personal experience that even in the best of circumstances, being removed from one’s parents is something that cannot be taken lightly. To harm children as a means of “determent” is sickening. And for anyone to defend it offends me to the core of who I am.
The fact that Christians, of all people, are debating the morality of this policy is, quite frankly embarrassing. It’s embarrassing on an international level that Christians can’t even agree that it’s wrong to harm children as a means to stop illegal immigration. It’s embarrassing on a national level that we are such poor students of the way of Jesus that we think U.S. immigration policy is more authoritative than Scripture. And it’s embarrassing to me personally, as a pastor, that I have failed those under my care so dramatically that even the straightforward teachings of Jesus are being ignored so flippantly. For all my inabilities to disciple my people properly, I am sorry.
But let me absolutely clear: if you believe that the U.S.’s current “zero tolerance” policy towards immigrants and asylum seekers is moral, ethical, and just, then you are rebelling against Jesus in at least three ways.
First, no national immigration policy supersedes Scripture’s stunningly clear instructions to care for the immigrant, stranger, and refugee. Jesus is plain in His words: if you reject them, you have rejected Jesus Himself.
Secondly, if you truly want to make Jesus angry, then harm a child. Jesus says that if you so much as make a child stumble, then you’re better off drowning yourself with a thousand pounds of concrete around your neck.
Thirdly, many of those at the border are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of the worldwide body of Jesus. When we reject them, refuse to help them, and in fact support policies that will cause irreparable damage to them, then we are like the fools in 1 Corinthians 12 who tell one part of the body that they don’t belong.
Brothers and sisters, I urge you, if you have supported this policy, then you have but one choice: repent. That is going to mean admitting that you were wrong. It’s going to mean admitting that your need for Jesus was even more drastic than you thought. It means ask forgiveness for so blatantly ignoring Scripture’s instructions. It means asking Jesus to change your heart to be able to love those who may consider unlovable.
But we need to do more than merely be against these policies. Christians, of all people, need to be on the forefront of helping immigrants and their children. Here are a variety of ways that you can give your money. Call your local representatives and urge Congress to make our current immigration policies illegal. And then be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with those who are still on the fence about this. This is not something to be silent about. This is not something where we can agree to disagree. We need to be actively changing minds about this, otherwise we will continue to ignore the commands of Jesus.
As I wrote this, reliving the painful experiencing of being removed from Toni, I found myself struck by the fact that Toni and I had been received into the home of strangers just before heading to Seward City Hall. That family gave Toni and I the last little bit of hospitality we would receive before being thrown into an incredibly painful situation. That was a moment where God's Kingdom shone brightly in Seward. I pray that God blesses them for their actions. And I pray that we may all imitate their example, as they imitated Jesus.