A Children’s Crusade?

Harry Monroe, Jr., a licentiate of North Texas Presbytery (PCA), has posted this piece on the current influx of unaccompanied children from Central America into the U.S. He is understandably cautious about the church allying itself to particular causes where Scripture is not explicit, but he encourages individual believers to arrive at well-informed positions rather than simply toeing the party line (whether left or right).

I would only raise one question here: was it right for the 19th-century Northern Presbyterian church to ally itself with abolitionism, even though Scripture was not explicit on that issue either? I would personally argue yes. I believe that Scripture provides us with sufficiently clear principles to conclude that the institution of slavery (and certainly the race-based chattel slavery of the American South) should have no place in our society today. And when Scripture is sufficiently clear, the church should speak and act.

So I wonder if there really is anything wrong with the institutional church carefully studying and speaking into the current issue of child refugees. Like Israel in the Old Testament, the church’s responsibility is to serve as a prophetic voice to the nations of the earth, calling them to recognize the God who is sovereign over all. If Amos was able to indict the ancient kingdoms of Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab—pagan nations that were not in covenant relationship with the Lord (Amos 1:3-2:3)—how much more so should we humbly admonish and exhort our own political leaders?

Now it is certainly possible for the church to abuse this prerogative and overextend its reach, like when it starts endorsing particular political candidates or when it becomes a de facto PAC. The Westminster Confession of Faith 31.5 tempers our zeal for social and political activism:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

Nevertheless, insofar as public issues become moral issues, the church can and should make God’s will known. And when 52,000 children come pouring over our southern borders to escape the rampant crime, corruption, and poverty in their own countries—a situation for which we might be partly to blame (see news article here)—shouldn’t we regard that as one of those “cases extraordinary?”

About Kyle Dillon

A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), assistant pastor of theological instruction at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church, and theology/languages teacher at Westminster Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.

3 Responses to “A Children’s Crusade?”

  1. This border crisis is a perfect example of why the institutional church should stay out of political activism. This influx of youth from Central America is occurring because of the Wilberforce Act of 2008, enacted in the waning days of the Bush administration. This law came about through the well-intentioned but poorly-considered activism of evangelicals (among others) to inhibit the deportation of foreign minors (excepting Mexicans and Canadians) who, the thinking went, were likely to be victims of human trafficking.

    A skeptic, or we could say a cynic, could have seen how this goody-goody law would provide a perverse incentive for traffickers, especially from nearby Central America, to flood our already overburdened, underfunded immigration system with youngsters claiming (truthfully or falsely) to be human trafficking victims. The skeptic/cynic would have also noted that illegal aliens allowed “temporary” residence in the US interior usually fail to appear at their deportation hearings, and are only infrequently apprehended by the authorities for so doing — and that the smugglers and their potential customers in Latin America are well aware of this reality.

    As for the youth in question, a good portion of them are older teenagers who are themselves affiliated with the very criminal gangs from whom they are ostensibly fleeing (those tattoos are not fashion statements). A sad reality is that in situations of internal violence in countries with weak central governments, as in much of Central America, there is not such a bright line between victim and aggressor. Another sad, indeed outrageous, reality is that the parents of these youths, with whom we are urged to “reunite” them as an act of “compassion,” in many cases have willfully abandoned their children to come to the US to make money, not escape from “oppression”. If these atrociously irresponsible parents wish to be reunited with their children, we could oblige by deporting them along with their offspring back to their home countries; otherwise, we would be rewarding and encouraging the abandonment of children in foreign lands so their parents might squeeze a buck out of America. One more factor: some number of these youth (unknown how many, given the the size of the influx) carry communicable diseases such as tuberculosis. Nothing compassionate about starting an epidemic among unsuspecting Americans.

    God judges the heart as well as the act, but man can rarely if ever judge another’s heart, only the results of his actions. As Christians and citizens, we must evaluate political programs by their results, not the pious intentions and rhetoric (often insincere) of their advocates.

    One can agree with the sinfulness of antebellum American slavery while also questioning the wisdom, and frankly the righteousness, of a waging a devastating war in order to effect its abolition. Abolitionists were sinners, too.

    Humanitarian assistance to the youth at the border (but not refugee resettlement in the American interior) would be a helpful and nonpolitical act for the American evangelical church. Anything more political, especially given the cause for this crisis embedded in the Wilberforce Act, would only be to the gospel’s discredit, and cause harm to flesh and blood human beings down the line.

  2. You make some great points here, Noah. I will try to be brief with my response.

    Have you noticed yet how, even though we are on very similar pages on most theological issues, we are almost always polar opposites on political issues? 🙂 I think there must be some underlying presuppositional difference between us that accounts for that, and I’ll bet it has to do with our respective views of the institutional church’s role in political activism. I take a more activist view, and for theological reasons. In my opinion, all moral issues are inherently political issues. And the only wholly reliable source of moral knowledge is God’s Word (I don’t believe in the existence of an independent “natural law” to which we can appeal for the governing of societies). Therefore, when moral issues become matters of public policy, who better to speak to the issue than those who have been trained to rightly handle the Word of God? Of course, that doesn’t mean that the church should start pulling the levers of civil government; that would impinge on the sovereignty of the state. Likewise, it doesn’t mean that the church is the only voice capable of speaking into these issues. Rather, the church should be in dialogue with experts in non-ecclesiastical fields (sociology, law enforcement, etc.) to determine how best to apply biblical principles. (Or, in John Frame’s terms, we should combine both normative and situational perspectives.)

    But that’s the decisive point for me. The biblical principle to which I feel compelled to commit myself is hospitality to the stranger. How this principle gets fleshed out on the ground is certainly open for debate, but there should be—as I stated in my reply on another post—a general presumption of liberality toward immigrants.

    Now I admit that many of these kids crossing over our borders probably aren’t simply innocent victims. But you’d probably have a hard time making the case that many of them came here with explicitly malicious intent. At worst, I’ll bet the better part of them came here simply to get an American job. And I can’t blame them for that. As I suggested in a previous post, we should consider ways to expand work visas for unskilled laborers, perhaps through job sponsors or apprenticeship programs which can be repaid upon employment. Obviously, we don’t want these newcomers to become dependent on government hand-outs. But empowering them on the path to self-reliance will probably require a little sacrifice on our part. This follows the pattern set by OT Israel. They too were more or less incapable of discerning between well-intended and malicious sojourners, but God commanded generosity toward these sojourners anyway.

    As for the Wilberforce Act, it’s not always easy for us to trace direct causation for complicated issues like this. It certainly might have been one contributing factor, but if you read the article that I linked in this post, America itself might also be partly to blame for the rise of gangs in these Central American countries in the first place.

    As for your comments on abolition, I completely agree. Had I been alive back then, I certainly (hope that I) would have called for the end of slavery. But whether that means supporting a bloody war to end it is a different matter. Personally, I don’t really think that the Civil War met the traditional criteria for just war theory (neither did the American Revolution, for that matter!).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Guest Post on Immigration: A Christian Case for Restrictionism | Allkirk Network - July 28, 2014

    […] been researching the topic of the immigration problem in America, on which I have blogged here and here. Although my own position is more progressive than Noah’s, I am nevertheless very impressed […]

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