This week, congregations across the Montana are preparing to send our teenagers to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Texas. Our church puts great effort into planning this gathering every 3 years, as a significant, life-transforming event. Many of our camp counselors, campus ministry peers, Young Adults in Global Mission, Lutheran Volunteer Corps and pastors, as well as others, talk about their experiences at Youth Gatherings as crucial to their understanding of their place in the world. We invest in our children because they are our future.
But even as Lutherans are streaming to Texas from the north, families are streaming northward from Latin America. And they are being stopped at the border. And, most horrifying, the children are being separated from their parents. Some children are the age of our teenagers heading to Houston. Some are the age of our children excitedly preparing for camp, at Christikon, or Flathead, or UMM. Some are toddlers, like the ones I saw frolicking at church on Sunday. And some are nursing babies. As of this writing, 2000 children had been taken from their parents, and put into confinement. This is not acceptable by any standards. It is not defensible.
As Bishop Michael Rhinehart, chair of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, says, there
is a difference between what is legal and what is moral. It was legal for slave children to be separated from their parents and sold into slavery. It was legal for Native American children to be separated from their parents and sent to boarding schools. But it wasn’t right. And it isn’t right for children fleeing their homes with their parents to be separated from their parents. Studies show that such childhood traumas can do irreparable harm to children.
Former First Lady Laura Bush wrote in an editorial in the Washington Post:
“Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not for the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents—and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”
If what Laura Bush writes is true for the United States—and I believe it is—then how much more true it is for people of faith, followers of Jesus. I encourage you to read the letter written by Bishop Eaton and other faith leaders. And I encourage you to pray for these separated families. And I encourage you to contact your elected officials and plead for an immediate change in policy.
Children are the world’s future, our most precious resource.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA