“The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” This is the answer White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly gave NPR in response to a question about whether it’s “cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children.”
He was defending a new policy from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security that separates parents (who arrive at the US-Mexico border with their children and have no visa) from their kids. These families are coming to the United States because they fear for their lives in Central America.
Why there isn’t a nationwide uproar over this amazes me. Let me put this another way. I’m a pastor of a Christian church here in Salt Lake City. Why aren’t Christians, at least, tying up the White House phone lines over a policy that is so cruel to children and mothers?
OK. I know that 80 percent of the Christian right voted for this president, and I’ve heard that this support seems to be holding steady. I understand this group of Christians supports the president because of his current stance in regard to abortion. Fair enough. But tell me, why does the Christian right speak so much about the unborn and ignore policies that throw the ones who are born under the bus?
Word came Tuesday that President Trump is seeking to chop about $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP — another move that one can only deem cruel, especially noting that 83 percent of the recent tax cuts benefited the top 1 percent of our nation.
Here’s my question to religious folk of every stripe (and also the many non-religious who care deeply about children) — can’t we all get together and agree that children are important? It seems to me that if you want to find a way to judge the goodness of any society one could easily make the case that that goodness could be measured by how that society treats its children.
One thing that made Jesus so unique in the 1st century was his love for children. In an age when people tended to ignore anyone below their kneecaps, Jesus saw them, and this makes him unique among the great spiritual exemplars of the world.
Jesus saw them trying to keep up with caravans of people on pilgrimage. He liked to set them on his knee when he taught. Maybe it was because he was the oldest of Mary’s many children. He knew how to hold their wobbly little heads in his carpenter’s palm — how to pass them carefully back to their mothers without dropping them.
One day he heard his disciples arguing about who among them was the greatest.
Now what did Jesus do? He set a child in their midst and puts his arms on those tiny shoulders and said: “The person who warmly receives a child like this welcomes me.”
“You want to compete?” he asks. “Compete in the way you love children.” When you see them, on whatever border, welcome them. Be first to guarantee health care for the helpless.
Why was Jesus so enamored of children? Maybe he knew what the late sociologist Alice Miller knew. She defined children as “messengers from a world we once deeply knew, but which we have long since forgotten, who can reveal to us more about the true secrets of life, and also our own lives, than our parents were ever able to.”
Charles Dickens once said something quite similar. He said, “I love these little people, and it is not a slight thing when they who are so fresh from God love us.”
Jesus saw children. Once in a while, we see them too. A photo of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy wearing a red T-shirt, shorts and sneakers went viral. For a moment the whole world took notice. And all he and his parents wanted was a place where he could grow up in safety; the same thing Central American families want for their children; the same thing our immigrant ancestors wanted for us; the same thing Jesus wanted for every child born.
Scott Dalgarno is pastor of Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City