I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the “Families Belong Together” rally and march at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, WA. This gathering was one of 750 similar gatherings held around our nation today, protesting recent actions taken by the current administration separating children from their parents upon crossing the border and the reality that there are no mechanisms in place for reuniting them.
This is the text of the speech that I gave.
Wherever you are on your faith journey, whatever your philosophy, or your approach to life, those who represent organized religion are duty bound to our societies to speak out and speak up when the values of our faith are misrepresented; when our values are manipulated to justify crimes against humanity; or when our values are used to abuse adults and children. The sacred texts of our faith – of the Abrahamic faiths – should not be used as a cudgel with which to beat down God’s gift of the glorious and free human spirit.
Jeff Sessions does not speak for us.
You need to hear from faith leaders like me that for more than a century The Episcopal Church (along with many other traditions of Christian faith) has been engaged in the ministry of welcoming immigrants, walking with them as they begin their new lives in our communities and advocating for immigration policies that protect families from separation, offer meaningful access to citizenship, and by our Baptismal Covenant serve to respect the dignity of every human being.
Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, preached of the socially transformative power of Love during his sermon at the Royal Wedding of Harry and Megan in Windsor, England in May. He didn’t speak of love just because it was a wedding – he preaches of love every single time he preaches. Love has the power to unite people across any divide of history or society. In so doing, love make societies stronger and turns strangers into neighbors who care about one another. Love can also make diverse peoples into family. As it our priests say after uniting two people in marriage, “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”
We believe that the same principle applies to the incarnation of love in the diverse expression of families – whether bound by blood, by vows of commitment, by adoption or by the recognition of kindred spirits.
We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community, and we understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and immigration and refugee agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm.
Tearing children away from parents, who have made a dangerous journey out of circumstances of certain death in order to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is morally and ethically reprehensible. It is unnecessarily bullying, cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.
As people of faith, our obligation is first and foremost to the vulnerable, especially to children. In this moment of history, I believe that we are called by God to protect them from being punished by forces of discrimination and racism in our country and inculcated in the policies of the current administration.
Therefore, informed by our faith, we call on our nation to live up to its highest ideals and most deeply held values, and we call on Congress to take action to protect families and children and to formulate a comprehensive immigration policy that is moral and consistent and that allows immigrants who want to contribute to this country the chance to do so.
This nation was founded upon the principle of liberty for all, it has been forged by the hands, hearts and minds of diverse peoples. Our diversity is our greatest strength; we must rise up to insist from our government and from ourselves a shared commitment to honoring the dignity and value of all people.
For those of us who adhere to the principles of radical equality and the unconditional love of God taught through the healing ministry Jesus Christ, our Christian values are at stake. Humane and loving care for the stranger, the alien, and the foreigner is considered a sacred duty and moral value for those who would follow the way of God. In his parable of the last judgment, Jesus commended those who welcomed the stranger and condemned those who did not (Matthew 25:35 & 25:43). This teaching of Jesus was based on the law of Moses that tells the people of God: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-35).
Just as Christ and the first century Christians stood against the violent forces of Empire that separated peoples into the wealthy, by virtue of injustice, or into the oppressed, by virtue of moral violence, we in our time are also called to stand against the cultural currencies of hatred, racism and greed. We will do so not by returning violence with violence – but rather by incarnating into this world what the alternative can and should be and what we dream together that we will create.
The Kingdom of Heaven – or however you conceive a just and ethical society – is not intended to be a comforting myth of some far off time or place. Rather, it is ours to create in every place and time, and in every generation, through actions of challenging injustice, healing the wounded and the broken hearted, feeding the hungry, and rejoicing in the beauty and strength of the diversity that God has made on this good Earth. We must – each of us – extend to one another the inestimable gift of human love that can truly create peace on Earth for all peoples.
We must today stand with those fleeing from violence and must not quietly abide the cruelty of children being separated from their parents, whose lives will be impacted forever by such action. There is no version of Christianity that can truly be called a Christian faith that permits or advocates the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual harm against God’s children.
To those who would dare quote Scripture to justify hatred, violence and rejection of the stranger, we say, “Separate Church from State, not children from their families!”
We who are willing to follow Christ to the service of love in the face of an oppressive and unjust Empire must bring the ministries of healing and justice into our time and place for building up the kingdom of peace on Earth, as a place for all peoples. We must insist on a nation and a government that truly reflects the best of our spiritual and moral values as people of diverse faiths and as citizens of these United States, a country of liberty for all who come to these blessed shores.