“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“An unjust law is no law at all” – St. Augustine and Martin Luther King Jr.
Under the Trump administration, we have seen our faith used to justify horrific human rights violations. This has shocked and appalled people of good faith and good will in our nation and across the world. In April the Trump administration, under the direct leadership of Jeff Sessions, enacted a “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Under this policy, migrant families have been separated at the US-Mexico border. As many as 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since April. Today, President Trump signed an executive order to end family separations adding, but more obstacles await migrant families.
The images and reports coming from eyewitnesses, attorneys, and some of the migrants themselves are deeply troubling: Children crying out for their moms and dads; a despairing Honduran father completing suicide, a teenage migrant changing the diapers of a toddler in her cage because no one else could or would. Trump’s executive order does not address reunification of the 2,300 children in tent cities with their families. In fact, this order, while striving to “maintain family unity,” provides loopholes for separation and criminal proceedings.
There’s a horror for many in the realization that these actions are not by some other country, some “axis of evil” or “terroristic” other nation—but are the inhumane actions of our own nation.
We have also heard those who enforce and speak on behalf of the Trump administration (Jeff Sessions, Sarah Huckabee Sanders) attempt to justify these heartless and inhumane actions by quoting the Christian scriptures.
All of this is too much for us to sit by and say and do nothing.
People of good faith and who care about principles of basic decency cannot remain silent.
We, as the faculty of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, must speak up against these inhumane and uncompassionate actions. We must register our insistence that the actions of this administration, to strictly enforce border policies at the cost of our human decency and with the consequence of lifelong consequences of destroying families and traumatizing children and parents, run against the principles of the Christian faith—and of every religious faith worth having.
Romans 13, the passage quoted by Sessions, has been used in the past in our country against abolitionists to justify the institution of slavery. It has also been wielded in arguments against the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa. It was a favorite passage of Hitler and was used to support the evils of Nazism.
We insist that Romans 13 be interpreted in its original context. The Apostle Paul was writing to the believers in the Roman church to obey the oppressive Roman Government laws, such as paying taxes; even so, Jesus instructed that we should only “pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He was not telling the believers to obey a law devised by tyrants to separate children from their parents.
Paul’s letter does not legitimate passivity in the face of institutional and government-enforced evil. Indeed, Paul himself was executed at the hands of the Roman Empire. He was not an unthinking adherent to the authority of the empire. Using the “law” to justify policies that destroy lives and separates families contradicts the priority of grace that Paul also taught, and that Jesus taught and modeled.
The Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures, include commands to be merciful, compassionate, and welcoming of foreigners (“strangers”)—especially of children. For example:
“The Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
“You have brought your judgment days near and have come to your years of punishment [because] father and mother are treated with contempt, and the foreign resident is exploited within you. The fatherless and widow are oppressed in you” (Ezekiel 22:4, 7).
“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).
The policy practiced now by our administration looks nothing like that which was prescribed in these texts for our Judeo-Christian forebears. It does not match the life and teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament.
Did not James, the brother of the Lord write, ‘If you keep the royal law found in Scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’ (James 2:8)? Let’s not misuse the Bible to justify our actions. In fact, the God of the Bible takes the side of the poor and the vulnerable. Anyone who comes to our border should be treated like our neighbor who deserves love and compassion, and we should treat them the way we want to be treated.
We join our voices of anger and sadness with so many others who are speaking out against the inhumane practices of this administration. We join with people of Christian faith, with our friends of every religion, and of none to say and do what we can to bring compassion and humanity back into our immigration enforcement policies and practices.
We call upon President Donald J. Trump and his administration to immediately release the separated children to be reunited with their parents, and we call upon you to keep resisting. The children in custody need your help as do the families that may now face criminal charges as a result of today’s executive order.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED:
As a community, we can welcome migrant families with open arms by signing petitions, volunteering, calling our elected officials, and making donations.
- ACLU: The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit again the administration for their detainment practices.
- RAICES: The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services is providing free and low-cost legal support to immigrant and refugees.
- Families Belong Together: On June 30th, Families Belong Together will host rallies across the country.