A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Refugee Children and the Border Crisis: Some Questions for the Nation Called Church

There is much tragedy, poverty, and violence in this world; and all too often it is visited upon the world's children. The complexity of the border crisis in America's southwest defies easy answers, but the immediate question in front of us, that I want to think through in this post is what to do with the some 70,000 children who are now in the United States, many of them here to unite with their families, many of them having experienced in their home countries not only extreme poverty, but also violence and rape and pressure at the hands of drug cartels to begin using drugs and then selling them to other children. As a father of four, now grown, children, it is painful to think of so many of these young lives affected and scarred by such evil-- and yes, the perpetrators are evil-- let's call it for what it is. More children are on the way. Who can blame them for wanting to come?

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?


Brian LePort said...


Brian Reinhardt said...

Until the locks come off the doors to the First United Methodist Church in Akron and the lock is removed from the Pastor's office, I believe we should take what he claims with a grain of salt...When he allows the homeless and poor to sleep, as they wish in the church then he can "enlighten" us on what our responsibilities as Christians are.

Yes the circumstances are terrible where many of those children come from. Have you seen what's been going on in Chicago, Detroit, LA, San Diego, Miami, Atlanta and Cleveland and even Lorain?

It is a far better thing for us to do in assisting their homeland to regain control of their own circumstances. Our efforts will be further reaching and more permanent if we do not become a dumping ground for thousands upon thousands of children.

He mentions if every congregation kept one child it would be the right thing to do. What if every congregation sent a missionary to those countries to help them...there. What about the children left behind in the countries afflicted by criminality, gangs, drugs and poverty who could not escape?

The children arriving here are but a tip of the iceberg and helping them primarily is doing nothing to solve the problem. Our humanitarianism and efforts will be wasted on a short term fix to a long term problem.

WE can fill the bucket with water for an eternity if we don't plug the hole that caused it to empty in the first place.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Brian, R.

I appreciate your comments because they are a perfect example of a lack of reading comprehension.

I did say the issue was complex. I did say that the governments of the home countries of these children have a responsibility. I did say that our government did also have responsibilities, which could also included helping these government to "regain control of their own circumstances."

The post, as I also indicated, focuses specifically what to do with the children who are now here and raised questions and possibilities of what the church might do. I told no one what their responsibilities were. I attempted to utilize Scripture in order to raise some questions for all of us, including myself, which I also indicated.

If you would be willing to read my post once again and comment in response to the substance of what I said, instead of disagreeing with me on things I never said, I will be glad to respond.

By the way, since you are a pastor as well, it might be helpful to get your take on what you think should be done with the children who are already here-- and you could also utilize Scripture to make your case if you have the ability to do so.