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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Suffer the Children: American & Christian response to the immigrant children crisis

(This article was originally posted in response to the reactions by Americans and Christians towards central American children entering America's southern border illegally in the summer of 2014. The present fears and reaction towards Syrian immigrants are the same as the oblivious forgetfulness of American towards the secular scriptures that is the Constitution of the United States and the holy scriptures that is the Bible.)

Suffer the children is a popular phrase attributed to Jesus. These words were spoken by Jesus. (see Matthew 19 & Luke 18) The phrase is the English translation according to the King James Version of the Bible. Jesus spoke these words to admonish and call his disciples to an awakening of their hearts. How could they possibly be indignant or bothered by the children who wanted to draw near to Jesus? The phrase, like many things taken from the scriptures, has had its share of various and wild interpretations. Suffice it to say, and to deflate at least one such interpretation, it has nothing to do with making children suffer or leaving them to agonize in their suffering. The meaning of these words of Jesus was that he wanted the disciples to, permit or allow, the children to come to him.


My use of the phrase in this article is to awaken Americans and Christians alike from the attitude of indignation and bother concerning certain children. This phrase can speak to those things which, either professed or practiced, are fundamental tenets of American democracy and  the faith that is in Christ Jesus, if we will listen. (The latter reference to the faith is what the world also has coined as Christianity.)


This is not an indictment or condemnation of my Americans compatriots and brothers and sisters in Christ.

Nonetheless, there are feelings of resentment, anger, frustration and fear which have stirred Americans and Christians. Specifically, these are related to the influx of immigrant children illegally crossing the southern border of the United States. They range in age from nine to seventeen years of age approximately.


This article is limited to certain tenets of doing good towards others such as through charity and compassion. These have been proclaimed and upheld in the history of America. While some have an open welcome for these children there is also a demand for the immediate return of these children from their countries of origin. I believe it is a travesty, perhaps disingenuous, for Americans and Christians to absolve and distance themselves from their tenets under the guise that these children are violating the law of the land. Yes, this is correct and undeniably true as concerns the law. But, for those who do reflect the tenets of our American democracy and their faith as followers of Jesus that guise does not and can not absolve them of the higher moral standard.


It should be noted that presently there are some concerted, organized, charitable and compassionate responses from the political and faith fronts to provide care with food, clothing and medicine for these children. In the interest of brevity and simplicity I will use the term fear as inclusive of several other feelings. It is not intended as overall stigma of fear against these immigrant children by Americans and Christians.


fear of the children


These children, whether at their parents’ prompting or the children’s own urging do not seek to draw near to Jesus like those in the first century. Their ambition is to come into the United States where, they have heard, is a better life for themselves. Adding to that pot of mixed feelings are indications that some of the older children bear the tattoo markings and other characteristics of gang life. Yes, this is represents a call for diligence on the part of law enforcement. There is resentment directed towards the government. The fear of disease-ridden children plays loudly in the hearts of the fearful. This fear is a dormant, latent bit of history. It is too far in the past for many to remember that it was European disease-ridden immigrants who unwittingly produced untold numbers of death among the indigenous peoples of the Americas.


American fear: a political reaction


One of the reactions to the children is a political one. Some Americans angrily resent the quick response involving billions of dollars by the government to address the problem involving these children. Some protest that there is a neglect for a much needed similar response to the needs of children and families in America. Of course,there are reactions with nothing more substantive than the unbridled mix of anger and contempt.


But what does the virtue of human kindness extolled, cherished and demonstrated by Americans remind us and call us to do concerning these children? Hear the voice of Lady Liberty's call to the world and a reminder to American and Christian alike.




America’s compassion towards European countries and Germany


After the end of World War II Germany was devastated because of the extensive bombing by the Allied Forces. Germany, America’s war enemy,  would have had a much slower recovery had the U.S. not implemented the four-year Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan loan or gave aid towards the European countries’ reconstruction and recovery, initially, but was later amended to include Germany. The collective American mindset concerning the liberation of Europe was not separate and apart from that of charity and compassion. Government officials might not have called it economic aid and while the word descriptors might have been different the net result was that the people in those post-war ravaged countries were the recipients of much good from America. This post-war wasteland far from America’s shores had other mindsets prevailed Germany would have been left to suffer and rot. The world and Europe would have been very different.


The Preamble: an American pronouncement


This post-war participation in the recovery of Europe may have been one of America’s greatest fulfillment of these profound words in The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


The rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may not be known or articulated by children, but that does not dissolve or nullify their human, inalienable rights. These rights are not the sole property or domain of American citizens or of those living in America. They are that with which all men have been endowed by their Creator, or do Americans believe what they profess?


Do we Christians believe these words? Do Americans believe these words?


Christian fear: a faith reaction


A brief clarification is in order. Christians, that is disciples or followers of Jesus, are not bound by the Jewish Tanakh. It is that body of scripture commonly known as the Old Testament. It is revered and accepted as the inspired word of God as much as the new covenant, that is, the New Testament. Its law and content are understood as having been expressly for the nation of Israel and no one else. The Tanakh is the heritage of those who are of the faith that is in Jesus.


One of the consistent, recurring admonitions which Israel learned and was reminded by God was that they were to not only not oppress the alien and the foreigner in their midst, but that they were to care for him. Provision for the stranger in the land was a solid tenet of the law of Moses for Israel.


Jesus and the poor


Jesus admonished his disciples when they feigned their indignation at what seemed to them a waste of what otherwise could have been sold for much and given to the poor.


However, knowing this, Jesus said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has done a good work for me. 11  For you always have the poor with you; but you don’t always have me.


Many years ago I remember hearing a politician’s very appropriate passing reference to this passage. He said it is not a prophecy about the poor as though it were something about which we can do nothing, but that it is an indictment on society.


Jesus related a judgment scene (see Matthew 25) to his disciples. The righteous were on the King’s right hand. There were those (who are not described) who were on his left hand. What was the criteria by which they were judged? It was what they had done when they saw the needy and how they responded to those needy ones. The righteous were surprised to learn that, unbeknownst to them, it was Jesus to whom they had fulfilled the need for charity and compassion towards the needy. The others on his left were surprised to hear this about the righteous because they were at a loss, as they acknowledged to the Lord, that they had never seen him. What they failed to discern was that those needy ones whom they overlooked and failed or refuse to fulfill their needs was Jesus in their presence.


(apolitical note: the references to right and left in this judgment is not the same as these is used to identify and align oneself with a particular political ideology. It is apolitical; void of politics.)


The King’s judgment of the righteous:


Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35  for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36  I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’


the response of the righteous to the King’s judgment:


“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38  When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39  When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’


the King’s judgment of the those on his left:


Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42  for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43  I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’


the reaction of those on the left to the King’s judgment on them:


“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’


the response of the King to those on the left:


“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’


conclusion:


The current crisis of immigrant children illegally crossing the United States’ southern border has produced a kind of side effect crises of the heart and conscience among Americans and Christians. Here is the crisis question: Will we absolve ourselves of the high moral calling for charity and compassion for these children because they have broken the law and leave the children to suffer? Or will we allow our hearts and conscience to speak to us and respond to the need of those children?


Americans have a rich treasure of experiences responding to a high calling. Whether that was in response to The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States or providing sustained post WWII assistance to the victims of Germany’s aggression, but to our former enemy Germany America was true.


Jesus’ admonished and confronted his disciples for their attitude short on genuine compassion for the poor. The call of Jesus for his disciples is at least as ancient in biblical history as the consistent admonition for Israel to never forget the alien, the foreigner in their midst because they too were once foreigners. Americans were foreigners who fled their home for a better life, too.


The mainstream media does much to portray American reaction to the rejection of busloads of these immigrant children as well as urban dweller protests about being neglected by the government. Still, there are instances (despite some ugly administrative fumbling) of federal as well state responses by Americans in response to the children. There are churches joining together with other organizations along Texas border cities to respond with charity and compassion to these children.


This is praiseworthy. It is to be commended in Americans as well as Christians who are being true to profess and practice their respective tenets of politics and faith. If you are not able to support those efforts on the basis that the law has been broken that too is viable response. It may be the opportune moment for the obligations towards law and the heart come together, not to clash, but to acknowledge and uphold the high principle of nurturing and fostering life as in the case of these children. Yes, suffer the children; permit the children to come.

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