“They Could Hear Their Children Screaming for Them From the Next Room”

If you can measure the moral fiber of a nation by how it treats children and the vulnerable, then its easy to see that the United States under Donald Trump has shed any moral leadership it once carried.

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Jesus Christ, ripped from Mary’s arms and thrown in a cage.

News and images coming out of Border Patrol detention facilities over the last few weeks show heartbreaking images of parents, searching for a better life than the violence of drug gangs who feed American addictions, being forcibly separated from children as young as just a few months old. We see pictures of small children locked in cages inside warehouses, sleeping on hard floors and not being allowed sunlight and space to move.

This, put simply, is highly immoral. What we as a nation are doing to these people and these children is evil and goes against human nature, not to mention, against God.

And, lest we be fooled that these actions are “inevitable” or “necessary,” remember that, prior to recently, we did not do this. Under Donald Trump, the Border Patrol has been empowered to change policy to ensure these kinds of inhumane actions are taken as some sort of sick, soulless deterrent in order to maintain some xenophobic and racist war against the growing reality of a more black and brown America.

Dara Lind at Vox explains:

Typically, people apprehended crossing into the US are held in immigration detention and sent before an immigration judge to see if they will be deported as unauthorized immigrants.

But migrants who’ve been referred for criminal prosecution get sent to a federal jail and brought before a federal judge a few weeks later to see if they’ll get prison time. That’s where the separation happens — because you can’t be kept with your children in federal jail…

First-time border crossers don’t usually do prison time. After a few weeks in jail awaiting trial, they’re usually brought before a judge in mass assembly-line prosecutions (according to Lomi Kriel of the Houston Chronicle, one courtroom in McAllen, Texas, has been hearing 1,000 cases a day in recent weeks) and sentenced, within minutes, to time served — as long as they plead guilty. “

Again, this is a conscious choice we are making, to separate children from their parents and house them like animals. And, our Border Patrol is doing it in the most immoral and cruelest ways possible. Lind notes that agents lie to families to get them to hand over their children, assuring the parents they are being taken to a bath or to answer a few questions, and then never being brought back. Can you even imagine? Being a parent, having your child taken from you?

Newsweek reports that, in the past, the Border Patrol has even be accused of physically and sexually assaulting child immigrants who enter their care. This treatment is being meted out to children feeling countries like Nicarauga and Honduras, which have some of the highest rates of murder in the world, and Mexico, which has been wracked by intense violence between drug gangs.

Even some asylum seekers, fleeing violence in Central America, and presenting themselves at border crossings – not, it should be understood, illegally crossing, but instead giving themselves up legally to border agents in the hope they will be given relief from the violence of their home countries – even these people are being separated from their children and criminally prosecuted. Prosecuted, jailed, and families destroyed, all because they want a better, more stable, less violent life in a nation they have been told is the greatest on the planet, but which is proving itself to be anything but. This is not only despicable and cruel, it violates both American and international law that protects refugees.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal got the opportunity to meet with some of the asylum seeking mothers who had been separated from children. This is what she encountered:

I met with 174 women, in three different pods. I went from one pod to the next. The vast majority were Spanish speaking, but there was a group of Chinese speakers and some others. We had a Spanish interpreter. The women would all answer at once sometimes. I did a lot of “raise your hand” questions. “How many are asylum seekers?” The majority lifted up their hands.

Thirty to 40 percent of these women came with children who had been forcibly taken away from them. None got a chance to say goodbye to their children—they were forcibly taken away. One said she was deceived, because they were in detention together. Then the CBP officers told her she was going out to get her photograph taken. When she came back, she was put in a different room, and she never got to see the child again. Some of them said they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room. The children ranged anywhere from one to teenagers.

One of the mothers told me DHS officers threatened to take away her 6-year-old daughter, right in front of them, and her daughter started screaming. She was separated from her daughter on the second day of custody and hasn’t had contact in over a week. But in some ways, she was one of the lucky ones, because her daughter was placed with family in Los Angeles.

Another woman came from Guatemala with her children, 8 and 12. Her husband was in prison for raping a 12-year-old child, and he was coming out. She was afraid her children would be raped either by him or some of his fellow gang members. She had been separated from her two children, she didn’t know where they were.

Another woman came fleeing gang violence, she had a 14-year-old child killed nine months ago. Another child in a wheelchair, paralyzed in a gang shooting. So she came with her third child, just to get one of them to safety.

Another woman came with her two sons, 11 and 16—for whatever reason, her older son is going to be reunited with his father in Virginia, but the younger son is staying in custody, which is crazy.

This is government by cruelty at its peak. This is the form of governing wished for and chosen by the conservative movement in America, a form of government that institutionalizes cruel and inhumane treatment of the least and the last. Donald Trump is the embodiment of the pure conservative Id, cruel and malicious and heartless, and anything but Christian, fed a steady diet of Fox News and culture war anger and racist fear mongering against everyone different, even babies and children who had nothing more than the bad luck to be born on the wrong side of an invisible, arbitrary line.

The Bible is unequivocal about how we are to treat the stranger and the immigrant. Exodus says, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” And Jesus himself, in the Gospel of Matthew, tells his disciples, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Jesus himself was an immigrant and a refugee, fleeing violence in his home country by going to Egypt with his parents. Even the Egyptians were not so cruel as to separate the baby Jesus from his mother. Do we really want to be on the side of Herod?

Our moral obligation is clear: we are to treat immigrants as we would treat ourselves, because they are human beings, worthy of all the dignity, respect, and love we can muster. What we are doing, as a nation, is far from that. What we are doing to these families is cruel, inhumane, immoral, and goes against God. We are failing, as a nation and as human beings. May we wake up from this nightmare we have become soon.

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The Drum Major Instinct

During Sunday’s Super Bowl, Dodge ran a commercial in which they thought it would be a good idea to excerpt Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon to sell trucks:

This was obviously….not good.

Why is it not good? Well, let’s let Dr. King explain himself from the very same sermon:

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.

This sermon, entitled “The Drum Major Instinct,” is all about the desire to win, to get to the top, to climb over others and exalt oneself. To illustrate the dangers of this, Dr. King talks about several things, including rampant consumerism that drives people to keep up appearances through buying stuff.

I think Dr. King wouldn’t be too excited about his words being used 50 years later to sell trucks.

But while we’re here (thanks Dodge!) let’s see what else Dr. King had to say:

And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. (Yeah) If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. (Amen) They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.

But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” (Preach it) And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

Seems like his words are just relevant in the age of Trump and “America First” as they were during the age of Vietnam and Richard Nixon.

The grand message of this sermon was that service, not “winning,” not achievement, not status, not “Sitting at the right hand of the king,” is the best way to channel our will to succeed. This is true because this is the way of Jesus:

But that isn’t what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, “Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.” But he reordered priorities. And he said, “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”

And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, “Now brethren, I can’t give you greatness. And really, I can’t make you first.” This is what Jesus said to James and John. “You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared.” (Amen)

And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.

Dr. King wasn’t selling anything. He was calling us to a higher good than self-enrichment. This commercial illustrated perfectly the danger of a neutered and tamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His words shouldn’t reinforce our biases or provide comfort to our consumerist impulses; they should convict, as the words of any prophet should.

My Favorite Bible Stories, Part 2: The God of my Enemies

jonahvtI don’t have a specific verse or set of verses today. Instead, I commend to you the entire book of Jonah.

Jonah is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. We all know it, heard it growing up. I am particularly fond of the Veggie Tales film Jonah. Those are some catchy songs.

But it’s what comes at the end of Jonah that I love. After being called by God and running, after being thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish and spit out on dry land, after a long and arduous journey across the desert of Syria to the enemy city of Nineveh, Jonah delivers his message to the Assyrians: repent, or perish at the hand of Israel’s God.

Message successfully delivered, Jonah leaves Nineveh, and camps out on a nearby hill to watch God rain down holy fire on the unrepentant barbarians. Why shouldn’t he enjoy a good show and well-deserved comeuppance for his enemies after everything he’s been through? And what a satisfying show it will be! Nineveh, after all, is the capitol of Assyria, Israel’s worst enemy, who had threatened them and attacked them and made their lives generally miserable. Finally, Jonah thought, justice will be served! God will save God’s people, by killing these others!

Only, it never happens. The king of Nineveh repents, and decrees a fast in the whole city, in order to appease God and avert destruction. God relents. The people of Nineveh, God’s very own children, are saved.

Jonah is pissed. Not only because Nineveh was saved, but because he knew this would happen. “Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Jonah knew God would spare Israel’s greatest enemy, and he can’t stand it. He wanted justice. He wanted the very people who plagued Israel, who destroyed their land, to be wiped from the earth.

And instead, he got a God of mercy, and compassion, and love. He got a God who is not just his God, not just his people’s God, not merely a divine strongman protecting just the Israelites. He got a God of all people. A God who protects God’s own, be they Israeli or Assyrian or Greek or Roman.

I love this story, because it reminds me today that God is the God of America, of Christians, of the West. God is the God of all. God does not support our side against theirs. God does not ride into battle with us, to protect us and avenge us. God instead stands with all of humanity, on both sides, no matter the wrongs committed by either side. God’s justice is bigger than our justice. God’s mercy is more bountiful than our mercy. Indeed, “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

Jonah reminds me that, when my country gets into a war fever, or descends into tribalism, that God does not condone such things. God loves all of humanity, be they American, Israeli, British, Palestinian, Iranian, Mexican, Chinese, Russian, French – all of us.

And if we expect God to vanquish our enemies, well, we will be very surprised to find that our God is not just our God, but is the God of our enemies as well.