Law-breaking, Children, and Jesus

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In the story, Les Miserables, (super short summary) a man named Jean Valjean steals bread in an act of desperation to feed his family. They were starving, and destitute, and he just wanted to feed them. But because he broke into the bakery, he went to prison.

I assume, since he went to prison, things only got worse for them – his sister’s children. And in all my years of the story of Les Miserables being on my radar and of knowing Christians who saw it, I have never ever heard someone say that if Valjean didn’t want his family to starve, he shouldn’t have broken the law. It’s always been “What a powerful story of redemption!” The general consensus has always been compassion and empathy for that level of desperation, as well as cheer for the underdog. How hungry do you have to be that a small amount of bread for an entire family is worth a punishable act? How do we as humans allow others to suffer in such a way? And “Five years is a really harsh punishment for someone trying to survive and going about it the only available way.” Right?

And yet, something I am seeing on social media (posted, too often, by Christians) over and over in regards to the treatment of children, whose parents allegedly crossed the border illegally, is that their separation/treatment is not a factor since their parents (allegedly) broke the law. No, they’re not saying the actual phrase “their treatment is not a factor,” but the instant default response is along the lines of “then they shouldn’t break the law” etc.

If I may, I’m asking us to just think outside the box for a moment:

Most of you who drive probably go over the speed limit at least a little – intentionally or unintentionally. I do, I readily admit it.

Actually, let me take it up a notch: let’s say you are desperate to get your child to the hospital because they are in dire need of what the hospital can/may be able to do for them. Let’s say you put that child/those children in the car, and you exceed the posted speed limits on the way there because you are in urgent need of assistance. You are afraid, or worried, and desperate. Yep, we all know that most of the time it is better to call an ambulance. We have all also probably been in or heard of a situation where that wasn’t practical or possible, or when we were just plain scared and compelled to do the next obvious thing. Most of us, if adults, have not only most likely broken a law at some point (or even regularly – I see how ya’ll drive …..), but would justify speeding to help or save our child. We justify it just to get them to baseball or a doctor’s appointment on time, for Pete’s sake.

So, if you break the law to save or help your family, and a Zero-Tolerance policy results in your kids get whisked away from you when you get pulled over, (and then not even consoled, or placed in best-interest care), are you saying with conviction that you would accept that? That you would just shrug and default straight to “Well, I broke the law…”? Or, if you’re a grandparent and it was your son or daughter who did the speeding to the hospital, and your grandchild/grandchildren were immediately taken away from your child and put into a detention facility (or tent in the heat) where they were not consoled or helped deal with what was happening, are you claiming that you would immediately go to “Well, their parents should’ve obeyed the speed limit…”?

I don’t think so.

I realize it may be a bit of an oversimplification, but …. is it?

We are talking about people who, for the most part, are doing the best they’re able with what they have or what they know to do in a moment of desperation, and – bigger picture – we are talking about the traumatization of children.

And I am talking about the justification of it.

I’m going to speak as a Christian to Christians here today, because I don’t understand the incongruence between what I hear Christians saying/defending and how Jesus lived and died. (And I readily admit I’m a lousy Christ-follower. I fall short all. day. long. But that doesn’t change anything about who Jesus was or what he taught. I can be bad at mirroring his teachings and still know what they are.)

Jesus was unmistakably clear about how children are to be regarded. Jesus was also undeniably clear about how we are to treat others. He himself was the author of the Golden Rule. Jesus broke the law to help people. He healed on the Sabbath, he touched lepers, he spared the life of the adulteress – the list is long, my friends, and there is nothing in his teachings or his life that commands or justifies mistreating children. Jesus himself said that it’d be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the deep sea than to cause a child to “stumble.” This word in the original language – skandalon – refers to the trigger of a trap (like, the trip wire) and is referencing something that sets something with a negative cause/effect in motion. And sure, we can cling to the argument that it’s the parent causing the trap to go off, but if we set the trap…..

Love is kind, yes? Jesus was compassionate, yes?

There is a significant amount of research and evidence that childhood trauma not only has a significant negative impact on key psychological development, attachment, etc. but also a strong link to adult sickness, disease and pain. Don’t just take my word for it – there’s plenty of solid data about it. The short version, though, is that trauma matters – at any age, but it can be especially damaging when it happens in childhood – and justifying the traumatization of children isn’t something that I think, as Christ followers, we can defend. For any reason. Trauma can (and often does) literally change the structure and function of the brain, which then has indelible, life-long effects. I don’t see a way we can defend inflicting that knowingly.

“Obey the law, kids don’t get traumatized.”

Maybe? But do you always obey the law? (Don’t deflect from the point – just ponder the question.) Do you always obey the speed limit? Do you always do your taxes with 100% truthfulness and accuracy? Do you always tell the truth? (By the way – not lying is one of God’s Big Ten…..) Again, from a Christian perspective to Christian readers, specifically: our very faith is built on the fact that Jesus died for everyone, and that he did it DESPITE and BECAUSE OF our choices. Died, most unjustly. We love grace, mercy and justice when we are in need of it, but as soon as we need to extend it, we are suddenly all about the Law. We break the law (state’s and God’s) and our children or grandchildren or nieces/nephews don’t get taken away. And – side note –  when the state does remove a child from a parent’s custody, it is done by qualified professionals and with the child’s highest good in mind. There is also an effort to keep the family together if at all possible. Our “do it legally” banter as a defense as Christians is riddled with hypocrisy and callousness. We need to put down those rocks.

I am not saying we don’t need laws in place as a society. This post is not about open borders, or walls, or even immigration. (Feel free to not make it about that. kthanksbye) Every system needs some type of order, and I don’t think anyone is actually arguing that. What I am/many are saying is that children are being mentally and emotionally (and otherwise) harmed on our watch and we cannot defend or support that. I am saying that professing Christ-followers are called to a higher standard and a deeper law. Jesus took action, and his actions were always healing, administering true justice, and making people whole. He advocated for those who could not advocate for themselves – including law-breakers. One of his last recorded conversations was with a law-breaker who was condemned to death. The guy wasn’t asking much – just that Jesus would remember him. And what did Jesus say (do)? He helped him. Reassured him. Made a way for him. “Today, you’ll be with me…..”

 

I don’t see even a little how, as Christ-followers, we have the right to decide or agree that a child (or anyone, really) deserves to be traumatized. Dehumanized. Jesus was always humane. Always. Regardless of the condition of the person or the choices they had made, he always treated people with dignity and compassion. If we feel entitled to do differently, we’re doing it wrong. And, yes, sometimes truly loving people means letting them walk away, or “lie in the bed they made” or face the consequences of their choices. But love never abuses its power nor does it condone abuse of power. Separating children from their families to make a point is abuse of power.

Matthew 7:12Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”  Jesus 

Proverbs 31:8 – “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”

Proverbs 3:27 “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.”

Psalm 146: 9 “The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows……”

I DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWERS TO OUR NATIONAL PROBLEMS. I do not know nearly enough about the complexities of immigration or immigration law (or anything else) to make an educated suggestion – and neither, I wager, do most of you. And this. is. not. about. immigration.politics. This is about the problem of being “all about” Jesus and then defending the known harming of children and families.

What does it really mean to be pro life?

If nothing else, I hope this gets us to ponder deeply. At best, I hope it spurs us towards action. If you disagree and feel like it is your duty to support the law, as it is, to its fullest extent, I respect your right to your opinion and I trust that we can respectfully agree to disagree. God knows our hearts and motives. I can’t claim to know the thoughts of God (I’m glad about that) – I am just trying to find my way, and to love the best way I can figure out. I agree that love has boundaries, I just disagree that it includes knowingly inflicting or supporting irreparable harm. Jesus’s life and death were, in their entirety, about compassion, healing, restoration, reconciliation, wholeness, and love. About giving life to people.

The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came to give them a rich and satisfying life.” That’s Jesus himself talking (John 10:10).  Quick word study: the word “steal” here comes from a word meaning to steal secretively/with stealth. The word for “kill” in the original version has to do specifically with sacrifice. And “destroy” comes from a word (apollumit) that comes from apoaway from, and ollymito destroy; in other words, cutting off entirely.

Whose work/character does it sound like, then, to whisk children away from their parents in order to use the children as a means to an end? To sacrifice them, as it were, to make a point? To separate families who are just doing the best they can? To punish the desperate? (How desperate do you have to be to send your child over the border of another country unaccompanied, for example? How desperate to you have to be to put your child in a boat, or attempt crossing a line to keep you out?)

Yes, he was talking about something else in John 10 (the Good Shepherd/his sheep), but the context does not change the fact that Jesus gave a clear depiction of what is his way and what is the opposite of it.

Would Jesus separate a child from his or her parents, who are just trying to escape indescribable hardship or violence, and place him or her in a warehouse or a tent or other – and not allow him or her to be consoled?

Would Jesus use a child, despite the lasting negative effect it would have on the child, to make a harsh point?

Would Jesus defend these things? No way. And if we want to be more like Jesus and less like thieves, neither can we.

** P.S. – Here is an article from FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan nonprofit fact-checking site. https://www.factcheck.org/2018/06/qa-on-border-detention-of-children/