I’m not saccharine about organized religion. For example, look how the Hobby Lobby freeloaders are climbing aboard the “exemption” train. But my experience is that once committed to a good cause nobody is more dependable than a “religious”.
Here’s the good news, by Michael Paulson, NYT, as usual edited by me.
After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”
When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.
(Some angry citizens) and local officials have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, led a delegation of Southern Baptist officials to visit refugee children at detention centers in San Antonio and McAllen, Tex., on Tuesday. “We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help. He said that in his own congregation, some were comparing the flow of immigrant children to the Kindertransport, a rescue mission in the late 1930s that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Britain for safekeeping.
The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, who have long allied with Republican politicians against abortion and same-sex marriage, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right.
“This is a crisis, and not simply a political crisis, but a moral one,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. On Tuesday, Mr. Moore led a delegation of Southern Baptist officials to visit refugee children at detention centers in San Antonio and McAllen, Tex. In an interview after the visit, Mr. Moore said that “the anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting” and added: “The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”
Also on Tuesday, a coalition of evangelical organizations sent a letter to members of Congress, opposing proposals for expedited deportation of the migrants. A similar letter is being prepared by a wide range of mainline denominations, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Earlier this month, 20 national Jewish groups issued their own statement.
The Catholic Church also opposes any effort to make it easier to deport children; last week, the archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George, said he had offered facilities in his diocese to house some of the children, and on Monday, bishops in Dallas and Fort Worth called for lawyers to volunteer to represent the children at immigration proceedings.
A church rally was held by supporters of the migrant children at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines on Monday.
“We have to put our money where our mouth is in this country,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We tell other countries to protect human rights and accept refugees, but when we get a crisis on our border, we don’t know how to respond.”
Various religious groups are trying to assist the migrants directly by offering food, shelter and legal services. The Episcopal Church is providing hygiene and nutrition packets; the United Methodist Church is offering showers and clothing; the United Church of Christ has started a nationwide fund-raising appeal. Catholic Charities U.S.A. has opened seven “welcome centers” along the border.
“As a Christian organization, we feel like we have no choice — we are clearly called by Scripture to respond to all children in need,” said Jesse Eaves, the senior adviser for child protection at World Vision, a large evangelical charity.
(Evangelicals are changing, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“I remember when my fellow evangelicals said, ‘Deport them all, they’re here illegally, end of story,’ but the leadership now supports immigration reform,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “There’s still angst in the pews, but if they listen more to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John than to Rush Limbaugh, they’ll act with compassion towards these children.”
Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.