Powell: Inhumane separation

Jul 16, 2018 by

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The Statue of Liberty greeted immigrant arrivals in the United States beginning in 1886. Many of our white ancestors saw this quote emblazoned on Ms. Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” These immigrants came seeking refuge, new opportunities and asylum from nations that didn’t provide that.

John Powell

Powell

Now others are seeking the same opportunity. Just when we think we can’t do worse harm, the unthinkable happens. The most devastating blow to our moral principles has been separating children from parents who are seeking asylum from violence in their homeland. They come seeking safety because the United States is compassionate. Or was.

According to the Associated Press, more than 2,000 children were taken from their parents from April until the zero-tolerance policy was temporarily discontinued on June 20. As I write this, children separated prior to the order have not been reunited with families. Parents don’t know where their children are, and no plans are in place to reunite them. Some parents have been deported without their children and have difficulty locating them.

Forced separation of parent and child is cruel. The cruelty is most horrific when babies are taken from mothers. That’s what happened under the current administration’s policy. Snatching a child from a parent’s arms is appalling, even if the parent has committed a crime. It’s a perversion of human decency.

Separation is warranted if parents are abusive or unable to care for a child. This is not the case for children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border with their parents.

This is a human crisis, unjustifiable and religiously corrupt. That didn’t stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from trying to justify it from Scripture. He said, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government, because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” This same scripture was used to enforce slavery, Jim Crow laws and the deportation of Native Americans to reservations. Later, Sessions vigorously defended the policy: “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”

This is neither biblical nor Christian. It’s inhumane and immoral.

What is Jesus’ response to such an inhumane action?

While dining with a group of Pharisees, Jesus healed an outcast. He asked them what they would do if one of their children were in danger. They had no answer (Luke 14:1-12). But Jesus has an answer. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:37). That’s the Jesus message for us.

Migrants coming to find safety are discovering an unwelcoming government. Jesus says to us, “Whoever comes, welcome them, especially children. They are our future!”

Religious or not, anyone can recognize that separating families is unacceptable. What can we do? Take a first step. Let’s help children reunite with families. Locate children and work with local officials and organizations to reunite them with their families. They may be in your community. You may discover welcoming the stranger feels like the right thing to do.

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.


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