By Chuck Queen
The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told Fox News recently that the most compassionate thing we could do is secure the border.
"If you're a homeowner with a swimming pool that doesn't have a fence around it, and a neighborhood child wanders in and drowns, you're liable because you have enticed that child into a dangerous situation," he said. "The remedy is to build a fence."
Jeffress argues that we need to build a fence around our border so large and tall and policed so heavily that mothers and fathers will not be enticed to send their kids to our country in order to escape grinding poverty and rampant violence.
By contrast, consider the words of Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. At a recent news conference, he defended his plan to provide temporary shelter for up to 1,000 of these children. He said, "Every major faith tradition on the planet charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated. I don't know what good there is in faith if we can't, and won't, turn to it in moments of human need."
Thankfully the majority of Americans are siding with the views of Patrick rather than Jeffress. According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly seven in 10 Americans believe the children arriving from Central America should be treated as refugees and be allowed to stay in the U.S. if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home countries.
Progressive Christians have been supportive and welcoming from the beginning. It has taken conservative Christians longer to get on board, but according to Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, "much of the credit for changing hearts and minds on this issue goes to conservative Christians."
Even Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, while acknowledging that any solution will be very complex politically and socially, said, "But what is not complex is the truth and reality that every one of these children are created in the image of God, and every one are beloved by God and they matter to God. That means they matter to us."
Christians still wavering in their full support for these children might consider the instruction Jesus gave to the disciples when faced with the hungry multitude described by one Gospel writer as "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." They had been with Jesus all day and it was getting late. The disciples urged Jesus to send them home so they might arrive at a village before dark and buy some bread. Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
When we consider the harassed and helpless children crossing our border — hungry, tired, traumatized, some in need of immediate medical attention — is Jesus not saying to us, "They need not go away, you take care of them"? Our first response, like the disciples, is to question our meager resources. It can seem overwhelming.
Consider the advice, however, from an unlikely source, conservative columnist George Will, "We ought to say to these children, 'Welcome to America, you're going to go to school and get a job and become Americans.' We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 (children) per county. The idea that we can't assimilate these 8-year-old 'criminals' with their teddy bears is preposterous."
We all know how the story of the feeding of the multitude ends, don't we? ("And all ate and were filled.")
Sometimes it's not about calculations or configurations, it's not about having enough resources or figuring it all out ahead of time. Sometimes it's only about stepping out on faith and acting in compassion, and leaving the outcome to a power and love much greater than our own.