taking the words of Jesus seriously

The Trump Administration is taking children away to punish immigrants and asylum seekers. When conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the morality of separating children from their parents, Sessions responded, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We have got to get this message out.” This policy is a moral abomination and tantamount to torture.

Earlier this week, the United Nations’ human rights office called for an immediate halt to the Trump Administration’s practice of separating children from migrant families entering the United States — saying that it violates their rights and international law.

In the face of this rebuke, the Trump Administration is continuing its “zero tolerance” policy that has accelerated separations of children and their parents at the border. Thousands of kids have been taken away from their parents.

The only case where children need to be taken from their parents is when they are gravely at risk if they stay, such as cases of abuse. Otherwise, breaking up families is our justice system’s last resort. Right now, the Trump Administration is using child separation to punish parents who courageously seek to protect their children from dire threats in their native lands. These children have already faced trauma most of us cannot imagine. Separating children as young as infants and toddlers will carry with it emotional scars that have long reaching effects on their lives. Threatening and harming children, say many, is tantamount to torture.

Like the United Nations, people of faith must also condemn a policy that punishes children for their parents’ attempts to protect them. Scripture repeatedly tells us Christians: “You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deut. 10:19).” Jesus himself was a refugee when the Holy Family fled to Egypt. Our identity is rooted in a view of ourselves as refugees. We are spiritual descendants of those who wandered looking for shelter, even if we have not personally experienced displacement.

Women of faith, particularly, are leading the resistance to this immoral policy. We are following the example of women of valor who have always taken action when their families and communities have been at risk of grave evil and injustice: from Hagar fleeing with her son, to Esther intervening on behalf of her people, to Mary escaping with Jesus to protect him from Herod’s genocide. In that great tradition, nearly 2,000 women of faith have signed a “moral declaration” calling on the administration to keep families together. We come from many places in our religious journey, but we all know the status quo is unacceptable.

SIGN: Women of Faith Cry Out to Keep Their Families Together

UN child rights experts stated that “The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.” People of faith are called to at least the same level of compassion as a secular organization. We need to love our neighbors. That means we need to do justice for them in which the punishment fits the crime. Through no fault of their own, kids are being punished by being taken away from their parents.

I hope the Trump Administration will reconsider this policy. I pray that they repent. Otherwise we will surely all face God’s judgment.

About The Author


Rev. Jennifer Butler is the Founder in Residence of Faith in Public Life, a network of faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice. She chaired President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She was named one of the “22 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2022” by Center for American Progress. She is the author of Who Stole my Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny, which makes a biblical case for multi-faith, multiracial democracy in the face of rising white Christian Nationalism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world.

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