Zen Priest Gaelyn Godwin on Why a Zen Priest Stands Against Tearing Immigrant Families Apart as Public Policy

Zen Priest Gaelyn Godwin on Why a Zen Priest Stands Against Tearing Immigrant Families Apart as Public Policy June 19, 2018



One of my favorite contemporary Zen teachers is the Reverend Gaelyn Setsuan Godwin, abbot of the Houston Zen Center. A Soto priest she is widely respected as a spiritual director and a beloved leader within her community.

She has been particularly active in the resistance to pulling immigrant families apart as a naked policy to deter people from crossing the borders illegally.

She has issued a statement on what she has been doing. With permission I reprint that statement here, along with some photographs.

The picture immediately to the left shows Bishop C. Andrew Doyle, the Episcopal bishop of Texas, the Reverend Gaelyn Godwin, abbot of the Houston Zen Center, and the Reverend Lisa Hunt, Rector of St Stephen’s Episcopal in Houston. The second shows Godwin Osho with Ana Camacho, a leader from the Women’s March Group, and the third shows the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner and faith leaders gathered to address this terrible situation.


I am asked why I responded so quickly to an offer to write a letter from Buddhists declaring our position in response to the forced removal of refugee children from their families:

We simply can’t give in when immoral acts take place in our name. We are inseparably united in a web of karma – our good actions resonating throughout the web, as well as our careless and harmful actions. Many of us are engaged actively in working to undo the consequences of immoral actions in the past, but we are now given the opportunity to address the appearance of a new situation that, if we turn away, will continue to wreak havoc in the lives of innocent children, families, and, in actual fact, every being on the planet.

Such behavior – separating families for no reason other than the power to do so – crosses the line that no civilized group of people should cross: willful harm to the innocent who deserve our protection.

In my view, good and evil grow because of the accumulated effects of small acts of negligence (or care), unconsciousness (or awareness), ignorance (or attentive study), selfishness (or generosity), and so forth. This is an opportunity to act in awareness and generosity. There are very few evil people, but a great number of people willing to do what to them are minor deeds that roll into great harm.

Often, here in Texas, I give the benefit of the doubt to folks of varying political persuasions and I endeavor, I make a strong effort, to interpret situations from an array of political perspectives, with respect for historically different interpretations. In this instance, however, a line has been crossed that requires our greatest efforts, in order not to magnify the harm with our own careless inattention.

We Buddhists are experts at attention – we have a great deal to offer the broad array of activists who are engaged in this situation with us. I heard many appreciative comments at the City Council gathering from folks who deeply value our participation, who value our particular skills.
Houston has become a potential site for housing the children – the new site was negotiated in secret, no one in the City government was consulted and, in fact, a facility that the City was negotiating to use for long-term homeless housing, was secretly leased, instead, to an organization to house the children.

A secretive new facility which has been leased in Houston to house the children snatched from their parents and guardians came to light on June 18th. The facility has not be approved by the City, and, as it was discussed today, on June 19th, also known as Juneteenth, a very important day in Texas as it was the day when Texans learned that slavery was abolished – three years after the fact, there are still several stages before approval would be granted.

Buddhists attended the meeting with Mayor Sylvestor Turner and the City Council – Abbot Gaelyn Godwin from Houston Zen Center, and Ana Camacho of Dawn Mountain Tibetan temple (Ana is also part of the Women’s March organizers) – along with a broad, unified group of Houston faith leaders and representatives of Houston charitable organizations.

We stand united in the face of this moral outrage and will work together, here in Houston, to protect the children and families who are being so cruelly and unjustly mistreated.

Our Mayor spoke eloquently in opposition to the proposed facility – his moral compass is strong and he has proven that he will uphold the values of generosity and care. The entire City Council unanimously opposes the policy of family separation; a broad coalition of activists are mobilized to act.

Gaelyn Godwin, Abbot
Houston Zen Center

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