People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
-Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)
A crying two-year-old in a pink jacket and shoes has become a Helen of Troy for the 21st century: the face that launched a thousand ships. And sunk a few, too.
It’s sad that, in our world, being good and generous to children has become politicized, but that’s exactly what happened in the case of little Yanela, whose photo was snapped last week at a border crossing in McAllen, Texas. While US Customs and Border Patrol Agents question her mother and pat her down, Yanela looks on and wails. The fear and exhaustion is evident on her face.
The debate over President Trump’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy has run at a fast clip the last couple of weeks. The President and his supporters claim previous administrations are responsible for the problem. Critics point out that, while previous administrations enacted procedures to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border, it’s this administration that has made a point of separating children from parents. (not an insignificant point) It’s a deterrent, say supporters. Criminals have their children taken from them every day. But comparing people trying to cross the border to give themselves and their children a chance at a better life with drug dealers, murderers, and violent offenders is not exactly apples to apples, is it?
President Trump, to his credit — or do you get credit for finally deciding to do what most people seem to think is the right thing? — has signed an executive order backing off his “zero tolerance” policy. Little Yanela — who may or may not have actually been separated from her mother — may have had something to do with that.
In all of this, though, the world has been treated to the spectacle of the United States, ostensibly a beacon of liberty and justice in the world, intentionally and admittedly using children as leverage in a war against a flow of undesirables from other countries that no one even seems to know for sure is coming.
And we’re treated to Christians (mostly white), quoting Scripture to try to support this policy.
I hope it isn’t the majority of us. I don’t think it is. Most believers I know seem opposed to the policy. But it’s enough of us that it gives the church a black eye and undermines the gospel.
Yes, I said that support of the “zero tolerance” policy — even if it’s backhanded, “Well, someone has to do something” support — undermines the gospel. I don’t care who you voted for. Let me say that again. I don’t care who you voted for. This isn’t partisan. If you think that the way to solve our immigration problem (a debatable problem, at best) is by putting children at risk, then you’re not paying attention to Jesus.
This is not hard at all. There are things about being a Christian that are tough, and stuff that’s kind of uncertain, but this is the equivalent of “Write your name here” on the Christianity 101 self-assessment. So some of us aren’t as familiar with the Bible as we’d like to be. Fair enough. Just type “little children” into the search box of the Bible app on your phone, or look up “children” in a concordance if you’re more old-school. It won’t be but a minute until you’re reading something like this: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” It’s in three out of four of the Gospels, for goodness’ sake. Really, I’m serious here — this should not be difficult at all.
Let me ask this: How likely do you think a parent is to come to believe in Jesus when people who wear his name say they think it’s OK if the government separates them from their children? How willing to hear the gospel do you think they’ll be if that gospel doesn’t offer grace to their family? How inclined to believe in the love of God do think they’re likely to be if his people think that separating children from parents is an acceptable strategy for keeping them from living in “our” neighborhoods, taking “our” jobs, or getting seats in “our” kids’ schools?
According to Jesus, the test of the gospel you preach and live and believe is whether or not it welcomes “such as these.” By keeping the kids away from Jesus, his disciples belied the good news of the kingdom of God. In effect, he asked them, “How can you claim to believe in the kingdom of God and turn away some of those who would enter it most readily and who are most able to receive it?”
As a general rule, when the Bible says that a thing made Jesus “indignant,” we would do well to avoid that thing.
A church that doesn’t know how to say that children should be cared for, and that anything that would put them in harm’s way is wrong, is in danger of losing sight of the gospel we claim to preach. A church that is willing to trade kingdom work for any nationalistic agenda, however well-intentioned it may be, is serving the wrong Master. Believers whose consciences aren’t pricked by the predicament of the weakest among us need a refresher course on compassion from the One who took children in his arms and blessed them and said that his Father’s kingdom was especially for them.
Right now, in our city, there are children of immigrants who are in need of a blessing by the church. Even those who are with their parents may be in need of food, medical care, assistance with homework, and so forth. Some have parents who have been detained or deported; will the church be their surrogate family for as long as it takes?
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” said the Lord. May we love the little ones among us and near us with his love, so that they will have the chance to come to him. May we take the time and make the effort to show the children that are so important to him that they matter to us.
If not, how can we call ourselves his followers?