By now you may have forgotten the latest outrage cycle regarding Trump’s move to have a “zero tolerance” policy for people seeking to enter the country illegally – specifically, charging those who seek to enter the country illegally with a felony and processing that charge, which in some instances could result in the separation of a child from a parent, placing the child under the care of social services to work a case of reunification with family as customarily happens in our country when a parent is prevented from caring for their child as a result of criminal proceedings. The outrage seems to have been momentarily diverted through Trump’s executive order that apparently returns us to the Obama era practice of keeping families together during their detention and legal processing – although a court ruling has previously called this practice into question.
A Summary of What We Don’t Know
Just a few other details to refresh your memory: First, remember that of the 12,000 underage children held in US custody, 10,000 of them were detained illegally crossing the US border alone– that is, already abandoned by their parents, already separated by their own families. Second, of the remaining 2,000 actually separated from the adults they accompanied, an unknown number of them were actual child trafficking cases. Third, of that remaining 2,000, an unknown number of them were in some kind of obviously dangerous or threatening situation with the adults accompanying them. Fourth, of that remaining 2,000, an unknown number of those children were accompanying adults who were breaking other US laws or were in other ways implicated in other crimes. Fifth, of that remaining 2,000, an unknown number of those children could not be proven to be the children of the adults accompanying them. Sixth, many of the pictures circulating of children behind bars laying on cots with radiant heat blankets were taken in 2014, during Obama’s administration. Finally, the now iconic picture of the little girl crying has been identified by the little girl’s father as not actually being a picture of a little girl being separated from her parents. Thus far, an overview of what we don’t know about the situation.
All Things Being Equal or Not
Now, let me be clear about a couple of other matters. All things being equal, I think law abiding folks should be free to cross into and out of our country as they please. I do not buy into all that scaremongering on the right about taking away jobs and there not being enough room or enough resources to serve everybody. That may or may not be true, but I think we should let natural forces sort that out. I object to the nanny state mothering people in general, and specifically here. If a family wants to make a go of it in the US, I’m a robust supporter of letting them try. I’m also a robust supporter of letting them fail if they can’t find work, can’t keep work, or aren’t otherwise skilled or inclined to learn the skills needed to find or keep work. But I’m in favor of giving everyone the opportunity. That being said, everything is not equal, and the civil magistrate has a duty from God to protect its citizens. Given the world we live in with gangs, drug cartels, Isis, the Taliban, and Jimmy Kimmel running around, we would be fools to simply open the boarders wide without any sort of processing or background checks.
I also want to be clear that I don’t have a great deal of trust in our government to have particularly wise or judicious instincts, policies, or laws regarding immigration. We can’t tell the difference between a blob of tissue and a baby or the difference between a boy or a girl, so I’m very sympathetic with folks who are concerned that our border patrol could misuse their power. Same thing goes for HHS and Social Services. Do I think our Social Services should be trusted with deciding which families are competent to care for their children and which are not? In general, not hardly. My wife and I are licensed foster parents, and we have had some 15 or so children through our home over the last five years. We’ve had many meetings with social workers, interviews, home visits, home inspections, including interviews of our own biological children. While we have been enormously blessed to work with many kind, decent, and reasonable folks (and many Christians in our district), we have also noted how social workers could make life very miserable for a family if they wanted to. All that to say, I don’t believe the government should be running these social services, and neither do I have any sort of rosy colored glasses related to this. We’ve seen the messes bureaucracy can make, and I can easily see how a malicious bureaucracy could cause great harm here.
Compared To What?
But part of Christian wisdom is always asking the question: compared to what? Now this should never be an excuse for breaking God’s law, but when we are doing business in the bogs of administrative obesity, would I rather an iffy administration of a semblance of justice or would I rather the drug cartels and gang lords running the show? Would I rather Isis or Ice deciding which kids go with which adults? Well, at the moment, I lean somewhat towards what we have currently with a Daniel-card in my back pocket ready to defy Nebuchadnezzar in a deuce. But, back to everything being equal: I do prefer the devil we know to the devil we know is far worse. Again, this is in no way to justify any actual abuse of power or cruelty. If kids/families are actually being treated inhumanely that should be reported and investigated. If children are being separated from parents because the ICE officer doesn’t like people from Venezuela, that guy should get the book thrown at him. And despite all the red tape and bureaucratic monkeyshines, the fact of the matter is that there is still a semblance of due process and just weights in our court systems making that possible. These things can be adjudicated. But if we let the pimps and drug lords run the show, I’m not sure how you would go about filing your complaint.
In other words, I’m not saying that our system in America is all sunshine and rainbows (well, it sort of is all rainbows, but in a different way…), I’m just saying it’s basically the system we have everywhere, in every state, and while it certainly can be abused, it’s better than a lot of other setups.
Now to the main event:
“But the Children!” Is No Substitute for Facts
First, and related to the last point, outrage is a bitch. Outrage can turn on you at any moment. The mob is no rational creature to be reasoned with. As noted above, the mainstream media has shown nothing but contempt for the actual facts. Ambiguity, shrill tones, sob stories, and cut-your-heart-out pictures are the order of the day. It doesn’t matter what the facts are, what the actual numbers are, the CHILDREN! The clear effect if not explicit goal of the media is an outrage avalanche, an outrage Molotov cocktail, not a clear or judicious reporting of the – what do you call them? Oh, right, facts. This is easily demonstrated by the lack of clarification of the actual numbers (how many otherwise law abiding families actually had their children taken from them?), the lack of care in naming (no distinctions made between legal or illegal entry), the fear-mongering descriptors (children in cages), and the lack of care for which pictures were being used to illustrate the situation. The reason I say outrage is a bitch is because it can turn on you at any moment. Take that same sloppiness with facts and a similar decibel level of emotion, and you could get a baker thrown in jail for refusing to bake a cake for some dude who wants to celebrate holy matrimony with his cocker spaniel. You think I’m being outrageous? Ok, fine, how about the guy who wants to marry his daughter?
The Heresy of Sentimentalism
To the extent that God stirs up His people to true Reformation and concern for biblical justice in every area of culture and life, there certainly will be a holy fury over sin and injustice, but when that happens it will be something entirely distinct from the outrage mob. Holy fury is not emotion that cannot be bothered with the facts. It is emotion grounded in the facts and rooted in explicit biblical principles of justice. But the heresy of sentimentalism has its tentacles deep in the American evangelical church. Sentimentalism is a parasite that can attach itself to many different worldviews, but in modern western and American demographics it can easily latch itself onto a facade of a “Christian” worldview, where basic Biblical pieties are claimed and mouthed, but sentimentalism always prioritizes the sentiment, the feelings above the Word of God. So, these sentimentalist Christians are good with Christian morals because they seem to line up with their feelings rather than fully submitting their feelings to the Word of God. But this will always ultimately result in justifying cruelty in the name of fluffy feelings. So the whole Pro-Abortion platform is shot through with sentimentalism, claiming to love women and children, all while condoning the murder of the unborn. But many Christians are susceptible to lesser versions of the same thing. How many moms in the name of some romantic notion of homeschooling have boiled their kids in that milk? Or how about sponsoring a conference that proclaims affirmation for the sexually confused in the name of compassion? How many thousands of parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and children are in the background of Revoice, being crushed by the selfish arrogance of these people? Or in this case, how many children will be successfully trafficked across the US border because a bunch of internet moms screamed about the cruelty of separating children from parents? Sentimentalism is the new Pharisaism: Pharisees do the exact same thing but their emotional idol is a superficial notion of righteousness. They have all the feels for particular rules or laws they think will keep them clean and pure, and in their junior high infatuation with tithing spices, they justify, overlook, or blind themselves to the weightier matters of the law. They strain out gnats with warm feelings in their hearts and tears in their eyes, with chunks of camel hair in their teeth.
“But Abortion!” is A Very Good Answer
And this leads to one of the common objections we’ve heard through all of this hubbub: But can’t Christians be outraged by abortion, sodomite marriage, and children being separated from their parents on the Mexican border unjustly? Or as Robert George tweeted: “Good Lord, people! “But abortion!” is no answer to inhumanity toward migrants. And “but migrants!” is no answer to the inhumanity toward unborn babies. Humanity to all humanity is the answer to all inhumanity.” While it is pithy and may seem to find the moral high ground on first glance, I want to argue that this is a Class A exhibit of why American Christians keep losing ground in the culture war. Yes, Christians can (and should!) stand against all forms of injustice and inhumanity, but the problem is the fact that George and many of the other sophisticates fail to ask the very next question: How shall we stand against all of these forms of inhumanity? His answer is apparently “be humane,” which is a standard with no teeth, no particulars, and in the absence of particulars, “humane” is a vague, sentimental standard. It amounts to doing what seems, what feels humane. But the real trouble with leaving this all ambiguous is that the net effect is to flatten out all of these problems: abortion, sodomy, and detaining illegal immigrants. But these problems (if the last one in fact is a problem) are not in the same league at all. But Robert George has effectively signaled that they are. I suppose if he was pressed, George would likely clarify that he does not actually think they are, but as a Christian thought leader, he is responsible for speaking clearly into the mic.
Yes, it is true that Christians should feel free to work alongside cobelligerents in any righteous cause. A cobelligerent is distinguished from an ally in a war by having a common enemy but not actually being friends. But Christians must not grant any moral authority to Baal or Molech. And this goes both ways: we do not bow and scrape to Trumpian moral authority or Pelosian moral authority. We have only one God. So as a sort of post mortem on this most recent episode how should Christians embody this? 1. Clearly point out the hypocrites. Anyone truly concerned with the plight of children must keep Planned Parenthood and all vocal supporters of abortion and homosexual mirage out of the conversation and away from the steering wheel. If you would not let convicted pedophiles volunteer for the nursery, do not let child abusers near the discussion of taking care of the children of illegal immigrants. They do not know the meaning of compassion. 2. Every effort should be made to deal with any immigration injustice by explicitly appealing to biblical and constitutional justice, not bleeding-heart appeals to what you feel Jesus would have done. What you feel can be countered with what someone else feels. First study what God actually requires in the Bible (also here), then get your facts very straight, and finally ask God to give you faithful emotions that are measured to that situation as far as possible. And 3. Since biblical justice is all of apiece because its ultimate source is the person and character of the Triune God, it must be crystal clear that abortion and homosexual mirage are vastly more clear and more egregious acts of child abuse by many orders of magnitude. While these other alleged crimes against humanity should not justify any other actual crimes, Christians must refuse to be suckered into spending their energy doing Molech’s bidding.
Yes, Jesus says that every cup of cold water given in His name will be rewarded. And Amen. But we are called to be mature in our thinking, and not childish (1 Cor. 14:20).