When Maria was about seven, we went on a family vacation to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Dennise actually travelled first, to take some intensive language classes, and Maria and I joined her a week later.
I was excited about the prospects of traveling with my daughter, internationally. I had spent six years as Mission and Outreach Minister at HPUMC, and that job had afforded me the opportunity to travel around the world, to many exciting locales. I LOVE traveling. I LOVE international travel.
And so it was that we eagerly boarded the plane. But something happened the moment we deplaned in Mexico City for a transfer. I got off the plane, holding my daughter’s little hand tightly, and I suddenly had a full-scale panic attack.
I realized I was in a foreign country, with a little girl too young to even understand my anxiety.
“What if I have to go to the bathroom here? What will I do with her?”
“What if, in this bustling crowd, she lets go of my hand?”
“What if our flight is delayed?”
“What if we are separated?”
That last question, of course, was the heart of it. The fear. The terror. The deep level anxiety that a parent has when they realize they have total responsibility for their child. It was that weight that hit me like a ton of bricks in that moment. When I flung my own body and soul around the world on those trips, that was one thing. Even when I was responsible for a group of adults…that was another.
But this. This weight and responsibility and fear…this deep-level, primordial desire to keep my child *safe* and this fear that I might not be able to…this was different. As I said, I had a full blown panic attack. I was breathing heavily. My heart raced. It was like I’d had seven cups of coffee.
It passed, of course. We boarded that puddle jumper and successfully got to San Miguel. The three of us had an incredible week there. And my daughter, excect when I finally told her the story as an adult years later, never knew any of it.
This story keeps repeating in my brain today, as I think of all the parents, separated from their children along the border in South Texas. The Trump Administration has changed immigration procedures, such that children are being separated from their parents. It’s a horrific policy that is being slammed by politicians and preachers on all sides of the aisle.
For example, First Lady Laura Bush penned an editorial that was published last night. She noted the irony that we were discussing these issues on the very day set aside to celebrate fathers. Then, this said this:
“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
I could not agree more.
And let’s be clear. This is a policy of the TRUMP Administration. It’s a NEW policy. And it’s absolutely possibly to follow the law and NOT separate children and families. Further, the laws being “prosecuted” are, quite literally, misdemeanors.
It would be as if you got pulled over and cited for having a broken tail light, and the police officer took your toddler into CPS custody.
Of course it is. It’s a legally insane misapplication of the law.
But more than this, it’s theological in defensible for anyone who professes to be a Christian.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions set off a fire storm last week, when he defended the policy (one he apparently had a major hand in creating…) by citing Romans 13. Among other things, “There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God. So anyone who opposes the authority is standing against what God has established.”
This has always been one of the more troubling passages in all of the Bible, and it has been misused and abused over the centuries. You know who really loved this passage?
And I don’t say that lightly. Because I’m generally a fan of Godwin’s Law, and avoiding even the insinuation that somebody is a Nazi. Calling somebody Nazi-like, even, is usually something I try to avoid.
But it’s the honest-to-God, factual truth that Hitler LOVED THAT SCRIPTURE. And he used it quite effectively against the German Church, in many cases freezing and undermining their moral voice. Again, that’s a fact.
That’s what Father Simmons, an Episcopal Priest, tweeted last week:
“Dear Jeff Sessions, are you aware that the argument you made today from Romans 13 was a central argument of the German Christian (Pro-Nazi) movement over and against the Confessing Church? I’m not saying you are a Nazi, bu you’re interpreting scripture like one.”
Cannot disagree with one word of that tweet.
It got worse. The same day Sessions used Romans 13 in this way, the President himself was talking about the brutal North Korean dictator, and how much he admired this despot.
President Trump said, “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
Of course he does. Who wouldn’t want loyal subjects who blindly show allegiance?
But that’s not what happens in a democracy. Or at least, it’s not what’s supposed to happen.
It was the combination of those two things —Sessions misusing Romans 13, and Trump demanding allegiance— that really got my attention this week.
Does it have yours?
Dear God, I hope it does. Because this, friends, truly is uncharted territory.
As a Christian minister, let me speak from my values. That’s always the place to start.
First, Jesus himself was a multiple-count law breaker. That is made clear in the New Testament.
Jesus broke Jewish laws about washing his hands…eating…working/healing on the Sabbath…
Jesus turned over the tables in the Temple courtyard…a clear violation of both Roman and Jewish law.
And, however you read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus WAS crucified. You didn’t get crucified in those days unless you had broken a Roman law. And crucifixion was usually reserved for those who had committed some kind of insurrection against the state.
In other words, Jesus’ own death puts the lie to the idea that God wants us —in all places, and at all times— to blindly obey our leaders. There is no factual way around this truth.
This policy of separating children and parents violates so much scripture that I hardly know where to start. Here are just a few of the biggies:
1. It violates the repeated assertion in the Hebrew Scriptures that we should NOT treat “foreigners” and “aliens” differently from citizens. In fact, it’s very theologically specific. It says that their shall be ONE LAW for the citizen and the “alien.” Why? “Because you were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” As God’s Holy People, we are to understand and remember that we were once immigrants and migrants. Therefore, we must treat all human beings the same, under the law.
2. It violates “The Golden Rule.” You remember this one, right? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This second scripture is actually tied back to the first. The law about treating the foreigner the same as the citizen is a special case example of the Golden Rule itself.
3. “Let the children come to me.” That’s what Jesus said. He said the Kingdom of God belongs to them.
4. “When you did it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” Matthew 25.
When you love, serve, care for, and welcome the most vulnerable of God’s children, you are loving, serving, caring for, and welcoming God in God’s self.
To be clear: There are dozens and dozens of scripture passages dealing with welcoming the stranger and the foreigner, and treating them *exactly like* we treat ourselves. And, further, our distinction of “legal and illegal” visitors would have been meaningless in Jesus’ time. Foreigners were ANYONE who came to your land, regardless of status.
Again, think about it in terms of that traffic stop I mentioned earlier.
Would you want your children ripped from your hands because of a broken tail light?
Of course not. Seeing it in these terms helps us frame just how much of a legal and moral over-reach this is. And the Bible shows us plainly how it is an violation of Biblical principles too.
I had a great Father’s Day yesterday. I got to spend it with my daughter. We didn’t do much. But just being here in our home was enough. I knew she was safely in the other room, resting in the afternoon, after church.
Those few moments in that Mexico City airport were the only in my entier life when I felt a sheer terror for the safety of my child. So, I can’t imagine how the parents now incarcerated along the border feel at this very moment. I hear at least one father has committed suicide in custody. Desperate times make people do desperate things.
I know this one thing. We are better than this. Or, we should be.
In every generation of human history, our worst fears and impulses are at war with our better angels. “Progress” is never a straight line forward. Instead, we are constantly having to re-learn and re-establish our democratic and civic values. And for those of us who are Christian, we have to re-remember who Jesus was, and how he stood up to the Powers That Be.
We should be better than this as Americans. And those of us who follow Jesus, we *should be* better than this as Christians.
We live in a Democratic society that values respect for law and leaders, that is true.
But that respect is always EARNED, not just demanded. Whether a leader is a preacher, a politician, or a boss, our society has worked hard to foster the idea that we are free to question our leaders, and question their application of the law and our values. Unquestioning allegiance to authority leads to abuse…abuse of power…sexual abuse…physical abuse…and much more.
And our Christian faith is founded on Jesus, who far from blindly obeying the Powers That Be, was crucified by the Romans for violating their law. God had the last word and raised him from that death. But make no mistake of the truth: Followers of Jesus are often called to stand up to their leaders and to call out injustice and inequality.
Now is one of those times.