Statement on the Separation of Families in Immigration Detention

June 20 was the World Refugee Day.  In a world where violence forces thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, this annual observance serves as a reminder and a call to action.  A few years ago, as the world became shocked by images of the Syrian refugee crisis, Central created a Refugee Task Force to explore how we might best get involved in relief efforts as a congregation.  We prayed, sponsored films and speakers, and eventually became a host congregation for a refugee family from Afghanistan.  Many members of Central continue to support the Ahmady family to this day.

The news this week has been filled with stories of how the American government is now enforcing a zero tolerance policy for people who cross the borders, including those who come seeking asylum as political refugees.  A new practice is the immediate separation of children from their parents for detention.

From the Roman Catholic Pope to the Mormon Church, denominations and religious groups have been speaking out against this practice.  The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been meeting and the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly released a statement that Central’s Session commends.

The full text of Nelson’s statement, dated June 16, 2018:

As Presbyterians gather for the meeting of our 223rd General Assembly, we are mindful of the many issues of justice, peace and compassion we face, both as citizens of the United States and members of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

While we face issues of peace on the Korean peninsula, tragic injustice in the Middle East, and the spectre of climate change in our nation and our world, there is nothing of more urgency than the tragedy that is unfolding at our borders, where children are ripped from their parents and placed in holding cells, while their frantic parents scream in agony at the separation.

What has this nation become? How have we wandered so far from Jesus’ kind admonition, “Let the little children come to me … for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs”? How can this be happening in a nation in which so many claim the traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and the critical importance of families to the fabric of our lives together?

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this policy is the willingness of the highest legal official of our nation to suggest that if a mother has fled violence in her own country to save herself and her children but has not had a chance to make a proper petition for safety in the U.S., she should be taught a lesson by having her children taken from her. It is almost incomprehensible that these acts should be used as a warning to others who would come.

What makes matters worse is the audacity of quoting the Apostle Paul’s admonition to believers in Romans 13:1 to obey the law (presumably whatever the law says), while ignoring the higher scriptural demand that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).

The crisis of tens of thousands of desperate people coming to the United States for relief seems almost overwhelming. But as the officials of our government attempt to address the crisis, we cannot afford to tarnish the highest values of our nation. We must not punish desperate parents by tearing their children away from them, leaving the parents without access to the children or assurance of their welfare. 

In the name of God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stop!

 In the faith we share,

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Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)