"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.'" Matthew 18:1-6 (NRSV)
What is happening right now on the southern border of the United States is an egregious sin and a stain on the moral character of our nation.
While I do not believe that any set of theological beliefs should be the driver of US policy, people of the Christian faith have an obligation to stand against the despicable policy of separating children from their families. Particularly since US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have invoked scripture as justification for this immoral practice, it is worth noting that it is heresy at best and blasphemy at worst to use one sentence from Paul's letter to the Romans to justify a practice that is antithetical to the Christ's call to love our neighbors.
President Trump and some of his most vocal supporters continue to peddle the lie that Democrats and the previous administration are somehow responsible for this practice despite the fact that this lie has been thoroughly debunked, even by a growing number of Republicans. What is more disturbing than the continued invocation of that lie is that those peddling this false assertion seem to be wholly unable to recognize and honor the humanity in the children separated from their parents and in the immigrants who cross our southern border.
Every year at Christmastime, Christians all over the US dress adorable children in robes and shepherd's garb and posterstock angels' wings. Sometimes, they are fortunate enough to have an infant in the congregation who can be recruited to play the role of the Christ child. The reenact the birth of Christ and share the story of Jesus's unlikely birth and survival. They tell of Herod's order to kill all the infants in the land, and describe how the Magi warned Mary and Joseph of the possibility that Jesus might fall victim to Herod's henchmen. An angel appears to Mary and Joseph and instructs them to flee to Egypt and, despite all odds, Jesus survives. If Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions were in charge of the border in Egypt at the time, the story might have ended differently. It's a story we all know, and yet, somehow, when we are faced with young men and women fleeing with their families to escape war, famine, and gang violence, all some conservatives seem to care about are human-created borders and paperwork.
I often wonder how, when presented with factual evidence of the horrors of Central America, so many conservative Christians in the US can fail to see the similarities between these immigrants seeking the safety of a new land and their own savior. It is as if they do not see immigrants as humans. They are more concerned with arbitrary and legalistic rules than they are with loving their neighbors. They become modern-day pharisees, rejecting Jesus's command to love others in favor of a flawed interpretation of Paul's legalism.
As I hear conservatives rabidly defend a policy that denies the humanity of the immigrants who cross our borders seeking shelter and asylum and a better and safer life for their children, I am increasingly convinced that racism, even if it is only subconscious, causes them to attribute less importance to these immigrants. If these were white children running toward the safety of the US, I believe conservatives like Trump would welcome them with open arms rather than rip them apart from their families, charge the parents with crimes, and violate their human rights. After all, Trump himself said he would rather have immigrants from Norway than from "shithole" countries.
I have tried engaging with my conservative friends about this issue. I hear them focus not on the realities faced by these immigrants at home or on what is morally right but on how these terrified people have somehow broken the law. How do we know they aren't gang members? What if they are just coming here to mooch off the public dole? Why are we worried about brown people when there are perfectly good white people suffering from poverty right here in the US? These people come here illegally, they say, and it isn't fair to the people who emigrated the "right way" to let these criminals cross our borders with immunity.
Here is what I have come to believe: If your first instinct is to lock immigrants up and rip their babies from their arms rather than treat them as humans seeking shelter and safety, you and I do not have a political disagreement. You and I adhere to a different set of moral values. If you truly believe that immigrants seeking asylum are such a threat to your own comfortable middle-class lifestyle that they should be treated as livestock rather than as humans, our disagreements are not about politics but about morals. We disagree about the basic definitions of right and wrong.
As a Christian, I am called by my faith to put love of others above all else, even my own safety. I am called to reject racist and classist arguments that treat immigrants as sub-humans and as criminals. And I am called to speak out against my own government when I see its representatives violating the human rights of immigrants because of misguided policies driven by white nationalist views.
An overwhelming number of immigrants arriving at our southern border are from Central America, a region torn apart over generations by resource extraction and colonialism. I cannot personally imagine what might drive me to abandon my home and trek hundreds of miles with my family in order to seek safety, knowing that the path between home and the US is dangerous and that I might be rejected or imprisoned when I arrive. Immigrants are not seeking handouts or allegedly-cushy welfare checks or food stamps. They are seeking a place where they do not have to live their lives in constant fear that warlords or drug cartels will murder their families or kidnap their daughters to use as sex slaves. These are individuals who lack the resources to emigrate to the US the "right way." It takes many years and many thousands of dollars to enter the US legally. That's time and money these people simply do not have. I have always believed that when the pain of where you are is greater than the uncertainty and risk of where you are going, you'll move. These immigrants believe that the potential for asylum in the United States, no matter the risk of the journey there, is a better option than remaining where they are. For them, being undocumented and afraid of deportation in the US is a better and safer option than remaining where they are. If you are reading this, that's something that, because of our privilege, you and I cannot understand.
The hard truth is that US immigration policies have always been driven by racism and white nationalism. The first major US immigration policy was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It was designed to keep out Chinese immigrants, and racism was at its core. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the US encouraged immigration, in general, so long as immigrants were white Western Europeans.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, almost 15 million people emigrated to the US at a time when the US population was below 100 million. Many of us trace our ancestry to people who came to the US during that time or before. It is easy for us, from our positions of privilege, to condescendingly say that we did it the "right way," because when most of our ancestors emigrated to the US, they had to do little more than show up at a processing center like Ellis Island, have a small amount of money or family in the US, and not be visibly diseased. It was a whole lot easier and less risky than what today's immigrants face in coming here. The "right way" today is substantially more complicated. The US admits only a very small number of immigrants, and it is disingenuous at best to pretend that legally emigrating to the US is an option for the vast majority of those who want to come here. And, incidentally, the Trump administration is insisting on making legal emigration even harder for those who most need to come here.
Those who claim to be Christian but who have no problem with Trump's family separation policy should go back and consider both the story of Christ's birth and his teachings as an adult. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus chose a little child from the crowd to represent the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Today, Trump and Sessions and all those who enable them and support their immoral policies are standing between those children and the safe-haven they so desperately need in order to survive. Jesus was explicit: "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." In rejecting and harming immigrant children, you are rejecting Christ himself. Unless you are prepared to stand before God and answer for your belief that immigrant children have no place in the US and that they should be ripped from their parents' arms and sent back to the hell from which they came, perhaps you should consider what your faith is calling you to do about what is happening today at our southern border.