The Evil of Separating Parent & Child

Sometimes, something is so heinous and vicious, that to be silent means to be complicit. I don’t commonly discuss current events or go into details about national news. It seems to me preaching to broader themes is best. Usually, my views of the ways of the world can be seen and understood implicitly. But sometimes, a pastor must be explicit. This morning is one such an occasion.

I must say to write this reflection hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work through tears, real tears, the 
tears of a parent in horror at another parent’s pain of saying goodbye to a child.

In a New York Times piece from this last past week, a piece titled “It’s Horrendous’: The Heartache of a Migrant Boy Taken From His Father, journalist Miriam Jordan details a five-year old Honduran boy named Jose arriving in Michigan to caretakers after being separated from his father at the border so that his father could be prosecuted for crossing the border without documentation. Organizations that organize such caretaking in Michigan and Minnesota are planning for 100 cases of children like Jose. There are hundreds of cases of children being separated from their parents. Jose’s caretaker is 53 year-old Janice and her husband Chris. Janice in talking to Jordan for her report stated, “I am watching history unfold right before my eyes. It is horrendous.”

Janice should know. She has watched Jose peer at a sketch of his father and his own stick person drawing of his family and cry. Jordan writes:

The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into “just moaning and moaning,” said Janice, his foster mother. He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking the family pictures under his pillow.

Jordan reports children as young as 18 months old are being separated from their parents for the purpose of prosecuting the toddler’s parents.

The horrendous zero-tolerance policy comes from a directive of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president has tried to claim it was a policy from the opposing party, another lie from a president that seems void of a moral compass. This is on the Trump Administration and on the president’s maniacal sense of vengeance against immigrants. His hatred is so acute that he sees possible gang members in every minor making the dangerous trek from Honduras and El Salvador and crossing the border alone. He recently said this about those he deemed “unaccompanied alien minors,” and I quote, “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.” Minors are not innocent.

Now, thinking about the themes of the Bible, I recall the story of Joseph. Remember his story? Joseph was the youngest son of Jacob, born years after his older brothers when Jacob and Rachel were rather old. Because dad was so old when Joseph came along, the story tells us, the young Joseph was the apple of his father’s eye. He adored young Jacob. As the story goes, his brothers throw him into a well and eventually sell him as a slave to some merchants. They are so hateful that they are sure to take Joseph’s coat, kill a goat and dip the coat in the goat’s blood, and show it their father. Jacob, thinking the worst and too old to make sure, is absolutely devastated. In one of the most heartbreaking passages in scripture, we read about Joseph’s desperate grief.

“It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has eaten him! Joseph must have been torn to pieces!” Then, to show his grief, Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth around his waist, and mourned for his son a long time. All his other sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “No, I will mourn for my son until I die.” This is how Joseph’s father cried over him.

Now, Jacob thinks Joseph’s separation is permanent. Any kind of separation of uncertain length of time for a parent is excruciating. Imagine not being sure you will see your child again? That is Jacob. That is Jose’s father. An inconsolable grief.  Grieving to death.

Marco Antonio Munoz did just that. His grief took his life. When he found out they were going to take his 3 year-old boy, he lost it. The border police had to fight him to extract his son from his arms. A couple days later, in a padded cell, he took his short, twisted it like a rope, and hung himself. This evil policy killed him.

The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery do not correct the wrong and end the separation. Why? Because they want to maintain their status and be seen as blameless and upright by their father. What a lie, though! Such cruelty to separate a son from their father. And to continue with such cruelty by seeing that father, your father, grieve so devastatingly, and do nothing to fix it! Pride and power and holding on to them – these things are more important than a righting a heinous wrong, an evil!

Now, the administration is rationalizing the zero-tolerance policy of separating children and parents by saying it is a deterrent to refugees. If parents think that their children will be taken from them at the border, maybe they’ll stay in their place, places overrun by poverty, corruption, violence, and terror, places that sees its children constantly in danger of harm. So these immigrant seek refuge and come to our border. We should remember, it is no crime to come to the border and plead for refuge. How can it not be a crime to take the children from those seeking refuge and trying to get over the border.

Remember the story of baby Moses? Moses mother was desperate to protect her boy from the infanticide project the Pharaoh was dastardly waging. Mom got so desperate that she placed Moses in a basket and sent him down the Nile trusting someone would find him. Indeed, the Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him in the Pharaoh’s court.

Could it be that when you compare the desperation of losing a child to violence forever versus losing a child to a safer existence in a home like Janice’s in Michigan, that heartbreaking choice means choosing the lesser of two evils?   What can deter a parent’s desperation? Moses’ mother gives us the answer. Nothing! How about we focus on the desperation of these parents and give them refuge?

I end with the story of maybe the most famous refugees to have ever lived. You probably know their names – Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Jesus is born not in his hometown, Nazareth, but in Bethlehem. After the birth, they have to sojourn back to Nazareth. Part of the journey home is fleeing to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s evil plans, the Pharaoh like plan of infanticide.

If Egypt were like Trump’s America, how different our story would have turned out? Baby Jesus torn from Mary’s arms, Mary and Joseph tried for the crime of crossing the border to escape the Herod’s holocaust, and Jesus ending up somewhere in Egypt and possibly lost to history.

Let us remember, as we close, Christ’s face resides in the faces of Jose and his father. Christ resides in the most vulnerable fleeing harm and dreaming of the hope and home of a safer place. May we somehow find our sanity and our compassion again and stop this sickening madness of tearing a child from his mother’s arms at the border!


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