Rev. Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas told Fox News recently that he thinks that the most compassionate thing we could do is secure the border. He thinks Jesus would build a fence around the border to keep all these children from coming in. He said,
“If you’re a homeowner with a swimming pool that doesn’t have a fence around it, and a neighborhood child wanders in and drowns, you’re liable because you have enticed that child into a dangerous situation. The remedy is to build a fence.”
Jeffress argues that we need to build a fence around our borders so massive and policed so heavily that mothers and fathers will not be enticed to send their kids to our country in order to escape grinding poverty, sex trafficking, and rampant violence. Someone might object and say, “But Jeffress, didn’t Jesus say, ‘Let all the little children come to me, for such is the kingdom of God.’” Jeffress says,
“Yes, Jesus loved the children, but he also respected law. Jesus said, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars.'”
That was Jeffress’ message to the Christians who were watching “Fox and Friends”: Jesus loves the children, but Jesus respects law more. So let’s build a fence and keep them out.
According to the Gospels, again and again Jesus violates holiness laws and overturns legal codes in order to minister to and care for human need. In fact, it gets him in all kinds of trouble with the religious authorities. With regard to Sabbath law, for example, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” In story after story, human need trumps law. Always.
By contrast, consider the words of Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. In a recent speech, he defended his plan to provide temporary shelter for up to 1,000 of these children. He said,
“We have rescued Irish children form famine, Russian and Ukranian children from religious persecution, Cambodian children from genocide, Haitian children from earthquakes, Sudanese children from Civil War and children from new Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. . . . I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions — and our inactions. . . . My faith teaches that, if a stranger dwells in your land, you shall not mistreat him, but rather love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Every major faith tradition on the planet charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated. I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t, and won’t, turn to it in moments of human need.”
Thankfully the majority of Americans are siding with the view of Deval Patrick rather than Rev. Robert Jeffress. According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute nearly 7-in-10 Americans believe that the children arriving from Central America should be treated as refugees and allowed to stay in the U.S. if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home countries.
Progressive Christians have been supportive and welcoming of the children from the beginning. It has taken conservative Christians longer to get on board, but according to Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, “much of the credit for changing hearts and minds on this issue goes to conservative Christians.” Even Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, while acknowledging that any solution to this problem will be very complex politically and socially said,
“But what is not complex is the truth and reality that every one of these children are created in the image of God, and every one are beloved by God and they matter to God. That means they matter to us.”
Christians who are still wavering in their full support for these children might consider the instruction Jesus gave to the disciples when faced with the hungry multitude described by one Gospel writer as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” They had been with Jesus all day and it was getting late. The disciples urged Jesus to send them home so they might arrive at a village before dark and buy some bread (assuming they had money for bread, which was not likely). Jesus said,
“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
When we consider the harassed and helpless children crossing our border – hungry, tired, traumatized, some in need of immediate medical attention – is Jesus not saying to us, “They need not go away, you take care of them”? Our first response, like the disciples, is to question our meager resources (“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish”). It can seem overwhelming.
Consider the advice, however, from an unlikely source, conservative George Will,
“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans.’ We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 [children] per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old ‘criminals’ with their teddy bears is preposterous.”
We all know how the story of the feeding of the multitude ends don’t we? (“And all ate and were filled”) Sometimes it’s not about our calculations or configurations, it’s not about having enough resources or figuring it all out ahead of time. Sometimes it’s only about stepping out on faith and obeying Jesus, and leaving the outcome to a Power and Love that is much greater than our own.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to theUnfundamentalist Christians blog on this website.