Friday, July 04, 2014

A Children's Crusade?

In the year 1212, a boy from Cologne, Nicholas, claimed that a vision of Jesus showed him that children could succeed, where their elders had failed, in relieving the Holy Land from the rule of infidels. The expedition ultimately ended disgracefully, with a large number of children being captured and sold into Egyptian slavery, and is now remembered as among the most embarrassing events of the Crusades, a sort of recognition that sets the bar unfortunately high.

The details of the Children's Crusade are sketchy, and some historians even question whether it actually occurred, but the story is indicative of what can happen when a large portion of the church internalizes the insecurities of an age, leading them to act in a thoroughly unchristian manner, and sometimes claiming the authority of religion while doing so.

All of which brings me to a modern crusade against children who have found their way in massive numbers, most often unaccompanied by adults, into the southern region of the United States. Knowledgeable accounts suggest that most have fled from frightening conditions in three Central American counties -- El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. While federal officials try to figure out what to do about this massive influx of young, huddled masses who often need medical care and reassurance after enduring terrifying circumstances, many of those who compose the coalition of "social conservatives" railing in favor of "family values" know exactly what should be done: get them out of here -- now.

It seems that these children, rather than being regarded as children, have become the latest props representing a cause. This is not a humanitarian cause. It is an immigration debate.

Now, regarding political causes, persons should be cautious about taking positions in behalf of the church on issues on which the Scriptures do not speak, and certainly the entire immigration debate is a complex one that addresses many issues -- economic, legal, geographic, and social -- to which the Scriptures do not speak directly. Nevertheless, while humbly refusing to commit the church to a cause, one can consider relevant material to suggest the position we should individually take on issues. Those of us who do so may not all come down on the same side, but looking for relevant Scipture is the sort of exercise that every Christian should undertake. Too many individual Christians do not do this. Rather than carefully consider the relevant biblical material, they fall in knee jerk fashion into the arguments of their normal allies. When this happens, Christians commit themselves to political positions that may or may not be utterly anti-Christian.

So what is the relevant material on this issue? Nowadays, it is common to say that Christians should love everyone, or perhaps there is a bit more clarity in saying that we should be compassionate toward the unfortunate. That is not the normal biblical way of speaking. Rather than speaking in generalizations, the Bible puts specific human faces on the sorts of people who should receive our compassion.  For example, from Zechariah 7:9-10 (ESV):

Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.

The designation of those four groups of people -- widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor -- as worthy recipients of compassion is not unusual in the Old Testament (this set of groupings occurs several times elsewhere), because that represents four specific groups of people who were largely helpless in the ancient world. Treating these people compassionately is represented as essential to obedience to the moral law, and failing to do so violated God's covenant with Israel.

The children crossing the American border comprise at least two of those groups, and some perhaps would be among at least three of them. Of course, I am not claiming that Christians in the anti-child lobby have no responses to these types of verses -- I could probably try to raise some counter arguments myself if I were so inclined. However, my question is: have you tried? Do you even consider the biblical material before crying for their immediate deportation? Medical care be damned, lest we somehow encourage others to show up.

Of course, the political repercussions are complex. The answers are not simple. However, the humanitarian need is also complex, and these are children, not pawns in a political debate.  If many conservatives are joining the anti-child lobby, I would call upon Christians to come out from them and be separate. If you are pro-family, contribute to a discussion on how to show the love of Christ to these poor, destitute children.

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