The question Americans face is what to do with these young people who simply no longer want to scour through garbage dumps for scraps of rotten food while searching for some tin to sell for a few pennies, and who no longer want to face violence and violation, and imposed drug addiction while being forced to sell to others so addicted. I encourage you to watch the video below, and then I will continue with my thoughts.
In what I am about to write I do not want to be misunderstood. There is clearly a role and responsibility that the U.S. government and state governments have to play in dealing with the border crisis. In no way am I absolving them of their responsibility. But since church is our nation as Christians (and I seriously mean that), I want to pose some questions for all of us who claim allegiance to that nation as to what we can do to offer the reconciling and healing love of Jesus to these children in desperate need.
There are several times that the biblical witness insists that we, the people of God, welcome and show hospitality to the stranger. Indeed, we are even told that the stranger is our neighbor:
"You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19).
"The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34).
"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35).
"Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).
"Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers" (Romans 12:13).
"Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:1).There are more verses I can quote, but I think these are sufficient to make the point. But here is the problem. I have been reading and listening to Christians utilizing these Scriptures as if they apply directly to the United States. But as I have suggested in my book, The Politics of Witness, that drawing a straight line from biblical admonitions to nation state politics and policy is a faulty hermeneutic:
Thus the hermeneutical posture the church must take is to understand that the admonitions of the prophets and the Sermon on the Mount (just two examples) are directed to the people of God, and we the church must embody in our corporate worship and service as well as in our individual discipleship lives that witness to the nations what God wants. In other words, the church's first task is not to work to coerce the state to take care of the poor. The church's first task is to live lives of simplicity and generosity and take care of the poor ourselves. In so doing we will be witnessing to the nation that it would be a better state if it took care of the poor as well.In other words, the church that exists in America needs to say to the powers that be in Washington DC, you would be a better and more just nation if you found a place of these children. But, first and foremost, the burden of the biblical concern for the stranger and the alien and the oppressed must be borne by the people of God, the church. So, I put the following questions to the church, the only truly Christian nation in the history of humanity (1 Peter 2:9). (America is not a Christian nation; it was a nation founded in a Christendom context. There is a big difference.) I ask these question, not only to my Christian readers. I am asking myself these same questions:
First, for those of us who believe that these children should be taken in because Jesus would do so, are we willing to open up our homes to at least one child? It's easy for us to tell others to do so, but are we willing to, as the old adage goes, "put up or shut up"? And if we are truly unable to take in a child, how much money are we willing to offer to assist someone who does? And simply saying that we are willing to pay a few more dollars in taxes isn't good enough. Radical hospitality and extravagant generosity consist in much more.
Second, there are approximately 70,000 refugee children currently in the United States. There are approximately 350,000 Christian congregations in the United States. What if out of all those churches 70,000 of them decided to take in one refugee child to feed and clothe and educate and to offer the love of Jesus? Is anyone going to try to argue that such an endeavor would be too much of a burden? One child for each congregation?
Of course, someone might say that while it is terrible that these children are in need, we can hardly take care of our own. When I hear kind of comment I ask, what do you mean by "our own?" As followers of Jesus, as those devoted to the one who died for all people, these children are our own. They are the "least of these." They bear the face of Jesus. Christians should never use the words "our own" in a way to suggest that there are others who are not "our own."
By the way, neither is inaction acceptable, nor is sending these children back to the chaos of their home countries with the justification that the problem stems from dysfunctional and corrupt governments in Central America and they need to deal with the problems instead of us. Well, yes they indeed do need to get their governmental houses in order, but the Bible never, ever tells God's people that radical hospitality and extravagant generosity is conditional. How and why these children became refugees is irrelevant to how God's people respond.
How can the followers of Jesus turn away children who bear the face of Jesus, the one who is a stranger hoping to be invited into the warmth and love of God's unlimited grace? How can the church, called to risk-taking mission and service, reject its responsibilities for the sake of its own comfort?
Jesus is a stranger at the border. Will we invite him into our presence and care?