Last Sunday we drove nearly 500 miles from Waco to Brownsville, Texas, to pray. When we got there, what we really wanted to do was sneak through the fence, over a wall and through a window of the repurposed, former Walmart used to house children forcibly separated from their migrant parents.
We wanted to sit on the floor and hold babies, toddlers and preschoolers in our laps and wait with them until their mamas could come. We wanted to hear the names and listen to the stories of every child inside that facility. We wanted to shake the guards at the entrance by the shoulders and remind them that these are babies – children – someone else’s very best, most precious gift. We wanted to ask how on earth they could just stand there.
But we knew we could not get inside the building, the largest of the facilities where children from migrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. have been housed. Instead, we stood vigil with a group of people committed to praying, to speaking the injustice aloud and to declaring that our allegiance is to God – and that separating children from their families in this way is not only untenable but decidedly unbiblical, un-Christian and un-American.
BROWNSVILLE, Texas—Cooperative Baptists gathered near the U.S.-Mexico border and declared “not on our watch” to political forces that use children’s freedom as a deterrent to parents who seek safety for their daughters and sons in the United States.
They prayed, read Scripture and sang in Brownsville, Texas, standing beside the largest immigrant detention center in the country, which houses more than 1,000 children and teenagers. News crews also descended on the location, where only hours earlier, a 15-year-old boy escaped.
Fellowship Southwest organized the vigil in partnership with eight other groups concerned for immigrants. They sought justice for more than 2,300 children separated from their parents by the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
“It is sad we have to gather on a day like this, in a situation like this,” said Jon Singletary, dean of the Diana Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. In seeking safety and security for their children, “families have to make hard decisions, life-and-death decisions,” he noted. “I cannot imagine my children being used as a deterrent to decisions I might make.”
WACO—About 5 million older adults in the United States are abused, neglected or exploited each year, according to the Administration for Community Living, and a Baylor University gerontology expert wants people to know how to identify elder abuse.
Family members, hospital staff and law enforcement submit most reports of abuse, said James Ellor, professor in Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.
But churches and other organizations also should be diligent, he said, noting clergy are considered mandatory reporters in many states.
A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship subsidiary organized a weekend vigil outside a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, re-purposed as the country’s largest migrant child care center to pray for children separated from their families while seeking asylum in the United States.
Jon Singletary, dean of the Diana Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University, said he has a hard time imagining what it must be like for migrant families facing life and death decisions on behalf of their children.
“I cannot imagine my children being used as a deterrent for decisions that I have made,” Singletary said. “I cannot imagine standing by as your children are being used as a deterrent for choices that you make. I can’t imagine allowing that to happen and I can’t imagine allowing it to happen to the children of our neighbors.”
“So we gather today hoping that we find a way in our nation for that to happen no more,” Singletary said. “We hope we are learning lessons of mercy and lessons of justice. We hope that we find new ways forward for our families, for our children. We are all in this together.”
Even as someone ordained as a Christian minister, I must admit that I don’t read my Bible all that often. I’m out of the habit. I was one of those kids who grew up memorizing scripture. I barely remember many of those verses now. I know I’m not the only one.
While most of us hardly know what is really biblical most days, I was struck by the Twitter hashtag that rose to popularity last weekend: #biblical.
On June 14, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told the press, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.” The Twitterverse soon exploded with examples of other things that are biblical – and that our lawmakers might want to consider.
Sanders made her remark in defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who had said, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”
With those words, it is clear to me that Sessions is using evil to deter mothers migrating to the U.S. with their children. He is using the law to do harm to our neighbors.
“Illegal entry into the United States is a crime, as it should be,” he added a few days later. “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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.”
That is one view. But #biblical tweets in response to Sessions have quoted other passages such as these:
- Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).
- You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Romans 2:1).
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).
- This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’ (Zechariah 7:9–10).
Also in Romans 13 are these verses Sessions failed to cite:
- Whatever other command there may be, they are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (verses 9b-10).
The law of the land, as it stands today and is now being interpreted and applied, results in tearing children apart from their parents. That is anything but loving. It is thoroughly harmful. And it is absolutely unbiblical.
A #biblical response must be love. In order to achieve such a response we must act on that love and let our elected leaders know that people of faith will no longer support a misreading of scripture and, more importantly, we will no longer stand by while our government destroys families.
Regardless of how you vote, of which political party you support, or your views on the president, let us join together as people of faith to urge Congress to support the “Keep Families Together Act, S. 3036.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Love is the fulfillment of the law.
WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Dean of Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, Jon Singletary, has reached out to several area churches about the possibility of housing the children of illegal immigrants who have been separated from their parents.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April that the administration was implementing a “zero tolerance” policy under a federal law that prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents, who are jailed pending criminal prosecutions.
"As global citizens here in Waco, we have to not just be attuned to what's happening in our own community, but we have to take a look around the state, what's happening at the border and be prepared to offer a compassionate response," Singletary said Tuesday.