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On Being A Refuge: The Immigration Crisis

by Pastor James Harleman

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge” – 2 Samuel 22

When King David sings about God being his Refuge, our Lord is not just described as a place for people to flee to for shelter, but also a safe “stronghold” and “fortress”. Likewise, there is a tension for a nation in its role as both protecting and being a refuge for its citizens and also expressing a humanitarian (or in the hearts of Christians, a godly) compassion for those in need. In the wake of the last few months of immigration issues in the media, there’s a lot to consider.

Anyone can splash the face of a crying child on the screen to sway our ill-informed emotions… while others can quote scripture, and (as Kevin DeYoung once said regarding another issue) “use a whole truth for a half truth in the service of a lie”. Christians need to be educated instead of enraged, avoiding the arousing methodology of the world and social media that inflame our passions without a clear picture. We need to be equipped properly, to respond in prayer and word and deed as we are able. Otherwise we are easily co-opted into partisan politics, mudslinging, hyperbole and worse. Everyone would love us to be on their scream-team.

As I sat down to study, contemplate the issue, and seek how best to pastor the body of Refuge Church, I found an older, theologically astute, pastoral voice had already given a fairly comprehensive look at the matter. Al Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and even Time magazine considers him “the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” He has a daily podcast called “The Briefing” I’d highly recommend, but on June 18 he devoted 25 minutes to discuss the matter (there is also a transcript).

You can listen or read the entire briefing here.

I’m going to chance putting some excerpts here, but as you find yourself confused or disagreeing it may be helpful to read or listen to the entire piece. I’m also going to include below some corroborating material I came across.

Moral Crisis at the Southern Border – by Al Mohler

“Many issues facing the United States are complex. They are so complicated, it is difficult to get a handle, a clear understanding on exactly what is going on… What we are facing is a policy that took effect at least by the 19th of April of this year, when orders from the White House and the Justice Department and the Trump administration, border officials, on America’s southern border, began separating children of parents or a parent who had entered the country illegally. When the policy was announced, it was announced as being an urgent, urgently needed, and short-lived program, but, already, between April the 19th and May the 31st, 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adults, and those adults, most specifically, the parent or parents of the children.

“…as is so often the case, when we’re looking at anything related to immigration, this is a complex question… with the fact that America has had broken immigration laws for decades now. Furthermore, America has been swinging, administration by administration and political majority by political majority, between either ignoring those laws or enforcing those laws. Every single nation has to have borders, and those borders have to have some definition. Every rational government has the responsibility to create a rational set of immigration policies. Those immigration policies have to balance national interest and humanitarian interests. “

There’s an even greater moral crisis related to children and immigration behind this most urgent headline, and I fault the mainstream media for giving inadequate coverage to this reality. In federal custody right now, there are no less than 11,400 children and adolescents. They are right now in federal custody. The vast majority of them were not separated from their parents… we are looking at a crisis of the federal government offering and responsible for childcare and the care of many adolescents who are now in federal custody.

[From James – it turns out this is true beyond anything I realized – The Huffington Post critiqued the previous administration’s handling in 2014, including a tearful testimony of a 10-year old girl separated from her father not unlike the famous crying photograph circulating in 2018. Then in 2015, the L.A. Times highlighted the great upset with the Obama Administration’s detention of 1,700 parents and children. In fact, the detention center conditions are the same as those being critiqued now as “cages” and “foil sheets” in these pictures from 2014. Also of note, some of the pictures being tweeted with outrage now have been shown to be pictures from years ago… and they are not “cages” and the foil sheets are heat blankets.]

There is no legal necessity of separating parents and children, but the law does make clear, and many seem to be missing this, that entering this country illegally is… a criminal act.[…and thus a combination of laws and court rulings does lead to family separation.] In response to the fact that it is, according to law, duly passed by Congress, a criminal act, some on the left are routinely now saying that the law should be ignored… It was the policy, in general terms, at least some of the time, for the administration of President Barack Obama, and as Ross Douthat pointed out in… The New York Times, it was the signal sent by the Obama administration about the non-application of this law that is largely responsible for the surge in those who have come intending to break the law from southern nations… an incentivization of those intending to come to break the law on America’s immigration policy, to enter this nation illegally.

[While this is correct, before we fault Obama’s administration singularly, the policy of “catch and release” he fell back on in 2016 hearkens back to the Bush administration – this problem has been kicked down the court for years without anyone willing to properly and thoroughly address it. We should not be a country with laws that we then choose to ignore. That’s not government at all: it’s literally the opposite of government. Look it up. We need to be a country that makes good legislation and enforces that legislation. And as much as my heart breaks for children thrust into these situations outside of their control, how can we give parents special treatment? Enforcing laws differently based on whether someone is a parent represents an inequity and injustice against childless people crossing the border.]

Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, says that it’s…”An unfortunate byproduct of the administration’s policy of referring all illegal border crossers, including people seeking asylum for their families, for criminal prosecution… [John Kelly said] “A big name of the game is deterrence… The children will be taken care of, put into foster care or whatever, but the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes to be used extensively or for very long.” [And] Attorney General Jeff Sessions, last Thursday, in a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, said, “Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution.”

Before we take this apart further morally, we do need to look at what we’re facing here. The White House has now applied an absolute policy in a situation in which almost no absolute policy will work either way. We’re looking at a human equation… they are now being arrested, and as arrested adults, they cannot have their children with them in custody. The children are then being separated, but the Trump administration, even in stating that they intended this policy to be limited and short-lived, did not understand or clearly did not seem to understand the numbers of those who would be involved.

It is inhumane. It reflects horribly on the United States of America. Americans should not put up with this policy. It is a scandal… It reflects a basic human value that is even more important than any zero tolerance policy when it comes to American immigration, but we also have to note that America’s immigration laws are broken, and enforcement has been haphazard. We do not currently, as a nation, have a responsible set of immigration laws that have the backing of the majority of the American people. We, furthermore, do not have any enforcement mechanism that enforces even the current laws in a way that is both consistent and humane and, furthermore, successive American administrations have sent so many mixed signals and successive Congresses have failed so abysmally that the United States now finds itself in the humiliating position of not even knowing, in general terms, what it intends to do with immigration and the question of immigrants and refugees and political asylum.

…even as the President has indicated that he adopted this policy in part to gain some political leverage against the Democratic party in its own obstructionism on the question of immigration, the reality is that both parties must own up to this responsibility, both parties must face down the moral and political realities, the legal and constitutional realities of America’s immigration problem, and we must face these questions in a way that breaks beyond the kind of partisan deadlock and irresponsibility we’ve had on this question, not just for a matter of weeks or months or even years, but now for decades.

It’s with the caution and comprehensiveness of Al Mohler’s articulation that I am seeking approach this issue, and humbly suggest others do the same. It’s too easy to point fingers at one administration, or one man (while I’m free to critique their steps) but I ultimately want to see how endemic, and systemic, an issue may be. Sometimes this may also mean admitting my own willful ignorance and complicity of a long-term issue instead of simply standing astonished and outraged.

Lastly, I am not sure what I’d do tomorrow if 100 uninvited strangers showed up at the doorstep of my home desiring my hospitality. I would not have enough food to feed them, clothes to clothe them, or blankets to let them sleep on my hardwood floors uncomfortably side-by-side. Would you be ready if you woke up to this tomorrow? And what if another 100 were coming the next week? Could you give them refuge? Would you? Who would you help? Who would you turn away? Why? These would be hard realities my wife and I would have to face with prayer, discernment and trust if such happened. How we achieve something similar at a national scale is, frankly, beyond my comprehension and skill set.

This article from National Review suggests why and how (and why) Congress should act.

While there may be people in our government with ulterior motives and wicked hearts, I believe there are godly men and women earnestly striving to provide both security and succor to those within and those without our borders. I don’t envy them the hard work of figuring out what a healthy expression of that looks like, but I will pray for them and not curse them, critique them with respect, and I will pray that even those with mixed motives and political maneuvering will be outmaneuvered by our Lord into achieving something that truly satisfies justice and mercy and forms better policies than we’ve ever had before.

I ask all Christians to pray for the reunification of families, the healing of children who are being used in various portions and hurt in ways they did not ask for and cannot control. We pray for people to find homes free from conflict, extreme poverty, and war. We desire just, humane, biblical approaches to enforcing laws at our borders. And we hope as opportunity arises to speak, influence, and directly help those in need Christians everywhere will respond and act as our Lord instructs.

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?”

– Micah 6:8