taking the words of Jesus seriously

My organization, Repairers of the Breach, joined major denominational and faith leaders recently to launch Moral Monday at the Borderlands. The purpose of the event was to highlight the crisis at the border and urge immediate action to address our nation’s unjust immigration system. While we want just immigration policies immediately, we have two specific demands. First, we are asking for a congressional hearing at the U.S./Mexico border and next, we’re demanding oversight of human rights violations.

Why Moral Monday?

The legacy of Moral Monday traces back to North Carolina in 2013, where the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP staged weekly protests at the state capitol to highlight injustice. Moral Mondays were about ensuring the injustice was not carried out under the cover of night. We came to El Paso following the invitation of local faith leaders who, like many of us, are in search of justice where are immigrant brothers and sisters are concerned. It’s important to note that before we ever engaged in moral witness or civil disobedience, we traveled to Juarez, Mexico on Sunday, July 28 to visit individuals and families with loved ones in immigrant detention facilities. There we heard stories of children ripping out the laces of their shoes and considering hanging themselves. There we heard stories of a 5-year-old American boy in detention because his mother lost her asylum case.

We then convened a mass meeting with multi-faith leaders, where many of us testified to the damage being done to children and families. Hundreds of clergy, faith leaders, activists, and others participated. While the entire event was livestreamed and can be accessed here, a few testimonials are noted below:

“The stories and voices of the children, adults, and families impacted by these dehumanizing and dangerous policies are leading our way forward,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who represents the largest, most diverse movement in Jewish life. “Seeking a better life is not a crime. The Reform Jewish community continues to mobilize and advocate for just and compassionate policies toward undocumented immigrants, and we will not stop until families are reunited, asylum seekers are no longer treated as criminals, and our immigration system is reformed.”

“You have heard it said that so goes the South, so goes the nation,” said the Rev. Dr. Robin Tanner, minister of Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Summit, NJ). “Here at the threshold between nation states, in the beauty and injustice across the borderlands, I say so goes the borderlands, so goes the world. This is the holy site of our collective moral awakening as a country. From every granule of sand to the winds that sweep El Paso, we must answer: Who will America be?”

“There is a text that says when God called Ezekiel in the midst of the exile, he told Ezekiel to lay down for seven days in front of the people (Ezekiel 4:4),” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach. “I’ve studied the scripture and as I have looked at it, I have come to understand that the reason Ezekiel was instructed to lay down in front of the people, was because he had to feel and pay attention to the experience of the people so the prophetic word he spoke articulated their audible moans and groans. In this way, our voice isn’t just ours alone. We are responsible for amplifying the voices of people who are struggling, and this includes our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

Citing that his father was a migrant, Imam Omar Suleiman of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and Faith Forward Dallas offered an impassioned rebuke of the treatment of migrant children and families: “Our faiths are on trial. As a Muslim, I believe in Jesus — peace be upon him. I believe in Abraham — peace be upon him. I believe in Moses — peace be upon him. [Now let’s put this in context for a moment] Jeff Sessions used verses from the Bible to separate those children from their families. Donald Rumsfeld used verses of the Bible to justify the bombing of innocent children in Iraq. Verses from the Bible and the Koran have too often been used to hurt rather than uplift. If you say that Jesus is in your heart, but you would put him in a cage today, you are a hypocrite. If you say that you believe in Moses, but you would let him drown, you are a hypocrite. If you say you that believe in Abraham, and that you are following in the footsteps of Abraham, but you would turn him away from these borders, you are a hypocrite. It is not the humanity of these people that’s on trial; it is our humanity.”

Define American Ambassador and former border patrol agent, Jenn Budd, offered these words: “I can’t tell you the amount of shame and disgust I feel. Not only for my own actions, but for what this country is doing to human beings with our tax dollars. We have got to put a stop to this. We have got to sat that this is not going to be done anymore. And I want you to know that what you are seeing and what you are testifying to, is the truth that I have seen with my own eyes. And I will call out these border patrol officials who lie to Congress every time they sit up there; ‘That this is some sort of crisis out of their control.’ Now you know that this is a manufactured crisis.”

“Right now we have two choices, one would be to turn our backs to vulnerable, desperate families fleeing from violence and seeking a new beginning, accepting the criminalization and rejection of those families, or to face this challenge with bravery, empathy, and open arms, knowing that these families are intrinsically connected to our future in America and that the U.S./Mexico border is the new Ellis Island of our times,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

“What we saw at the border was damnable. As people of faith, we are called to welcome the immigrant as our family,” Rev. Dr. Barber concluded. “We need Christians to rise up and challenge theological malpractice that allows people to look the other way and not challenge injustice.”

About The Author


The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church and President of Repairers of the Breach. He has served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, the largest state conference in the South, since 2006 and sits on the National NAACP Board of Directors. A former Mel King Fellow at MIT, he is currently Visiting Professor of Public Theology and Activism at Union Theological Seminary and is a Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary. Rev. Barber is author of the best-selling The Third Reconstruction: How A Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear.

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