“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land….”

I can’t imagine the terror at the US southern border these past few months.  A family fleeing violence in a lawless Central American country takes what they can carry and heads North, to what they have heard, what they hope will be a land of opportunity, only to be met by rough men and women with guns that take the children and put them in separate detention centers from their parents.  The anxiety.  The fear.  The incalculable sense of loss.  Damned if they stay in their homes to a life of constant threat of violence.  Damned to a life of misery in this miscast land of shattered dreams.

A parent has a responsibility to see to the safety of his or her children.  The decision to migrate north must be a difficult one.  They have heard of bad things that may happen along the way.  But the dream of the promise a better life overcomes the reality of the threat of dangers along the way.  They make their decision, and by whatever way they can, they leave certain danger and a constant sense of privation and head toward the uncertain.

If it is true about children being held in pens at these detention centers, I am saddened beyond belief at this miscarriage of American justice, mercy, and decency. We have abdicated our often-touted role as a guardian of morality and human decency for a false sense of security.  These children are not security threats.  The vast majority of their parents are not either.

But it pains me even more when I see people who claim a Christian faith support these barbaric and ungodly measures.  Let me be clear: the treatment of children and families of undocumented immigrants at the border is wrong.  It is evil in its purest form.  Where mercy is asked, we grant none.  Where asylum is sought, we now summarily detain until we can send frightened people back to their homes filled with violence and hostility.

This is as far from Christian as can possibly be perceived.

I agree that there must be control over entrance into the country. But we can decide how we do these things, either with compassion and decency or with overt hostility. 

The biblical view is clear.  The Israelites were commanded to be charitable and merciful to immigrants.  In Leviticus 19.33-34, the law is given, “33 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  The Israelites were to do sojourners, strangers, immigrants no wrong.  Why?  Because they themselves had been immigrants, strangers, sojourners in Egypt.  You were once in their shoes, they are told.  You were in need, and you were provided for.  Of course, in the narrative, the Israelites devolved into slavery over the centuries, and were later liberated.  But perhaps that is the message to them: treat others better than you were ultimately treated.

The treatment of children is alluded to in the New Testament in the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew in Matthew 7.9-11.  “9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” 

But these are not our children.  No, but they are children.  They are human beings who are our neighbors.  Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?  The question was asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?”  And Jesus told that often-repeated story of compassion.  The upshot was anyone who needs your help is your neighbor.  Anyone who needs your compassion.  Anyone who needs mercy.

Is there a more compelling picture than a child knocking at the door, at the gate of this country, asking for food, water, clothing, medical attention?  Is this not the very image of how we will be judged in that decisive moment in Matthew 25?

The conclusion of Jesus’s comments in Matthew 7 are summed up in that well-known verse 12. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

The Golden Rule.

How many times have we heard it repeated?  We know the words.  We can speak the words like some incantation.  Mechanically.  Inauthetically.  Self-righteously.

But like musical notes can be mechanically sounded, the meaning in the melody is lost without the understanding and emotion of the musician.

Do we crave having our children torn from us?  Do we seek detention in a pen or cell or other confinement as we recite our Pledge of Allegiance, promising liberty and justice for all?  How do we justify treating others this way?

The evil in this action is many-fold:  it is not only the evil of treating others without mercy and compassion.  It is perverting if not ignoring the teaching of our sacred texts in favor of the rantings of power-hungry men who have no morals, yet claim piety and purity of intent.  It is ignoring what is required by God of those who would claim to be his children—justice, mercy and humility.

We need security, but not at the cost of the soul of the nation.  Whether some accept it or not, we are a nation of immigrants.  That we turn our backs on others who are no different from our ancestors is hypocrisy and arrogance.  If we refuse aid and care to those who stand at the door and knock, we turn our backs on the teaching of Jesus.  There is no way around it.

If we cannot support more immigrants, we must do what we can to help them make their homes safer and more prosperous.  The “America First” doctrine is evil in itself.  We are humans, first, before we are of any nationality.  We are children of God before we are citizens of any earthly realm.  We need to stop ripping babies from their mothers’ arms like some image from slavery or the opening scenes of an incipient holocaust.  When we forfeit our humanity for some concocted sense of nationalistic security, we are doomed to fall.

I echo Dr. King’s quote from the prophet Amos, when he said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  The call is as needed today as when he wrote those words from a cell in the Birmingham jail.  There are many national sins to wash away, and one is truly no more egregious than the next toward those who are targeted, but none so blatantly cruel as separating families at their most vulnerable hour, when they need the strength afforded by their bonds of love.  We were meant for better than this.  May we hasten the day when true justice and righteousness may flow from every human heart; when kindness and mercy overcome fear and mistrust; when we once again reflect the image of a loving God.      

 

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