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Separating Children from Parents at the Border Belies Our Christian Values

Those who support “zero tolerance” immigration policies are violating fundamental commitments. 

Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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GOP leaders seem to be looking the other way as children are separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the U.S.-Mexico border — Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence and, until recently, Paul Ryan, all of whom boldly declare their allegiance to President Donald Trump’s immigration reforms and to cracking down on those crossing our borders illegally.

They’re looking the other way because these same men proudly declare themselves to be Christian and, thus, presumably, pledge at least an equal allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth and his values. In fact, each has said he does publicly; and, recently, Jeff Sessions appealed to the Bible to justify the practice of separating families

This contradiction should give all of us pause, regardless of whether we identify as Christian. It is baffling how those who say they’re “pro-family” and “pro-life,” who run political races on these platforms and who routinely cite their faith as the bedrock of their personal and political lives, could square their positions on immigration with the personal values they say they so deeply embrace — namely, the values of Jesus. And if they are insincere about things that they say lie at the heart of who they are, what else might they be insincere about?

Consider what Jesus says about children. He says “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). He also says “Whoever welcomes [a] little child in my name welcomes me … and the one who sent me” (Luke 9:46-47; Mark 9:35-37).

Further, in the parable of the lost sheep, he declares, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10); and “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14). For thousands of years, these passages have been interpreted by Christians to mean, at the very least, that Jesus held a special place in his heart for children and believed that God did, too.

And what did Jesus have to say about the stranger; or, in this case, the immigrant? Speaking about God’s judgment of nations in his parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus says those who do not feed the hungry and provide for the poor, and who refuse hospitality to the stranger and care for the sick, fail to be faithful to his example and to God’s expectations (Matthew 25:34-46).

Elected leaders who say they follow Jesus but who support “zero tolerance” immigration policies that separate children from their parents at the border are violating his most fundamental commitments, including the unwavering value he placed on children and on extending hospitality to the poor, hungry, sick — to the stranger. This disconnect between their policies and values raises the additional question of whether these leaders are insincere or simply inhumane.

But we can’t place all of the responsibility on the politicians. We also have to look at ourselves, including the 81 percent of white evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump knowing that he planned to take an unprecedented hardnosed stance against immigration.

Recent polls indicate that a large majority of Americans say they too are Christian; 75 percent in fact. This raises still another question. What is 75 percent of the population willing to do about this abominable practice of separating children from their parents, which inflicts further injury on the most vulnerable in our midst and those whom Jesus championed?

A failure to pressure lawmakers to create better immigration policies and practices immediately, and not holding them accountable at the election polls, forces us to consider whether we are looking away from this travesty, and, whether we too are insincere or simply inhumane.

Allan Hugh Cole Jr. is a professor, senior associate dean for academic affairs, and director of undergraduate programs in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman and Waco Tribune Herald.

To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.

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Texas Perspectives is a wire-style service produced by The University of Texas at Austin that is intended to provide media outlets with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns (op-eds) on a variety of topics and current events. Authors are faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft columns that adhere to journalistic best practices and Associated Press style guidelines. The University of Texas at Austin offers these opinion articles for publication at no charge. Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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