This is who we are: America has always separated families

From unlikely sources such as the US Chamber of Commerce to ordinary Americans appalled by the scenes of children ripped away from their parents and living in cages, the cry arises, “This is not who we are.”

It’s an appeal to emotion, morality, what used to be a common sense of decency.

Unfortunately, it’s not true. As commentators like Jelani Cobb and Shaun King point out, the institution of slavery often separated parents from their children, wives from their husbands. And freedom didn’t make it easier–freed slaves were separated from their family members who were still enslaved.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Native American children were taken away from their families and culture and placed in boarding schools in an attempt to “civilize” them.

So, this is who we are and the fact that the policy has widespread support among Republicans should give us pause. That many of those supporters claim to be Christian is more evidence of the existential crisis in which American Christianity finds itself.

It’s not just that the Attorney General cites Romans 13 to argue for obedience to these policies, that he neglects Paul’s eloquent statement just a few verses later, that “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).

As Christians, we believe that all human beings are created in God’s image. As Episcopalians, at every baptism, we promise to respect the dignity of every human person. This policy is the end result of a steady process of dehumanization of our fellow human beings. It’s the same process that historians remind us preceded the Final Solution in Germany. (For a recent discussion of some of these issues, see this article by Cass Sunstein). That ICE employees use similar tactics as were used then. Telling parents that they are taking children to get baths was a common explanation given by prison guards before leading children to the gas chambers.

In the face of these horrors, the enormity of the evil, clarity of witness and courage to speak are necessary. We must remind ourselves and the world, that the God we worship has a special concern for the poor and the outcast, the stranger and the alien, the widow and the orphan. We must remember and proclaim that the Jesus we seek to follow embraced and welcomed children. We are called to love: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Our clarity and courage as we proclaim God’s love and justice, as we seek to live out that love and work for justice, and our witness to the world as love one another may seem futile and meaningless as we face the enormity of the evil in our world, but it is our calling. Our hope is not in our own efforts but in Christ; our faith is not in our own power but in the power of our God who hears the cries of the oppressed.


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