Three names that were hallowed in my Evangelical Christian community when I was growing up were Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and James Dobson. The first two were hailed in my Evangelical Christian community for their resistance to the Nazi authorities on behalf of the Jewish people in their native countries of the Netherlands and Germany. The latter individual was and is known for his focus on the nuclear family. Against this backdrop, I was deeply troubled to find some Evangelicals claiming one must always support the rule of law, even when it involves breaking up nuclear families. Such is the current stance of the Trump Administration with its “zero tolerance policy” on undocumented immigration. Their zero-tolerance policy extends to migrant families seeking asylum in the United States.
Against this same backdrop, I was encouraged to find that the Rev. Franklin Graham criticized the policy of separating children from their parents crossing the border illegally: “It’s disgraceful. It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” At least on this issue, Rev. Graham resonates with Evangelicals in the past who saw the need to resist laws deemed unjust, including those that would lead to separation of families.
Former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, weighed in on the matter in an article published in The Washington Post. Like her many Evangelical supporters, she affirms the need for sound laws that protect borders. However, she also chastens against the “zero-tolerance policy” of the Trump Administration:
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; those who have been interned have been twice as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.
Certainly, it is important that the U.S. government along with other governments in the region work to protect borders. However, such protection of borders must not take precedent over the protection of human dignity and the sanctity and unity of the individual family, especially the most vulnerable. The Evangelical Immigration Table’s balanced approach to the subject merits the support of all Evangelicals at this critical time:
- Respects the God-given dignity of every person
- Protects the unity of the immediate family
- Respects the rule of law
- Guarantees secure national borders
- Ensures fairness to taxpayers
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
The Evangelical Immigration Table provides the basis for a zero-tolerance policy against the rule of law that favors a nation state’s borders over the human treatment of asylum-seeking families. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s use of Romans 13 in the unilateral defense of a government’s rule of law and its application to the current “zero-tolerance policy” would be lost on Corrie ten Boom in her family’s rebellion against the Nazi regime. For what it’s worth, it would also be lost on this nation’s founders in their decision to rebel against what they took to be Britain’s tyranny. Mr. Session’s claim would also be lost on the Christian Scriptures as a whole.
The Evangelical community in which I was raised would give pride of place to the Torah over the laws of any nation state: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18; NIV). And again, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:21-24; NIV).
Our country and the Evangelical community in its affirmation of Christian Scripture can do better than favor laws that override care for the widow, orphan and alien. Our focus on the family should be biblical and include asylum-seeking families in their distress.