The Perverted Theology That Supports Family Separation

Commentary
By Joe Kay 6-18-2018
People protest against family separation, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, N.J., June 17. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

People of all religions and political leanings are speaking up against the administration’s policy of taking children from parents — but that’s not enough.

We also must challenge the ideology that produces these human indignities, the mindset that supports them, and the perverted theology that blesses them. Those things have been around from our country’s beginning.

I understand when someone says they don’t recognize our country anymore. It’s unfathomable that frightened children are being snatched from their parents’ arms and whisked off to government camps where they’ll remain indefinitely. Can you imagine the terror those children and parents are experiencing?

But none of this behavior is new. Those of us who grew up in the '50s and ’60s have seen these same horrors, produced by the same deeply ingrained ideology.

We’ve seen the terror on black children’s faces as they were attacked with police dogs and water cannons because they marched for equality.

We’ve seen four black children killed in a church bombing as white supremacists tried to instill fear in those who challenged Jim Crow laws.

We’ve seen countless black people arrested and separated from their families for insisting that they’re equally beloved children of God and deserve to be treated as such.

And that’s not all we’ve seen.

While the dogs attacked and the bombs exploded, we saw millions of white “Christians” defend the atrocities. They quoted Bible verses, claimed the high moral ground, and blamed those who were being treated inhumanely.

They said that if black parents would stop demanding a better life for their children, they wouldn’t be attacked. If they’d obey the law and move to the back of the bus, they wouldn’t be arrested and separated from their families. If they’d stop preaching about love and equality, their churches wouldn't be bombed. It's all their fault.

None of that ideology was new then, either. It’s been part of our nation’s fabric from the start. It provided the rationale for committing atrocities against Native Americans and bringing slaves to our shores. The same white, Americanized version of Christianity was the heart and soul of Jim Crow that was in force until a half-century ago.

It’s never gone away.

The nation reached a turning point in the 1960s with civil rights legislation. In the following decades, there was a movement to recognize and protect the equal rights of all people.

The nation elected a black president – something unthinkable only two generations ago – and there was a backlash as white, conservative Christians felt their power, privilege, and demographics slipping. Now, the ideology is on the march again, using its favorite weapons: demonizing those deemed a threat and terrorizing those who refuse to go along.

We see the ideology parading with torches in Charlottesville. We witness its handiwork in the photos of children crying at the border. We hear it in the pronouncements that Mexicans are rapists, Muslims should be banned, immigration from black-majority countries must be stopped.

Yes, the images of children torn from their parents’ grasp are horrendous. The thought of terrified little ones held in government camps is heart-rending. People of faith must stand against all of it.

But it’s not enough to protest one policy as though it's an isolated act and the rest of it is acceptable. We must challenge the supremacy that underlies it, the heartlessness that enacts it, and the religious perversion that blesses it.

If we don’t do that, we’ll keep getting more of the same. And we’ll be complicit in all of it, all over again.

Joe Kay

Joe Kay is the associate minister at Nexus United Church of Christ, Butler County, Ohio. He also writes a weekly blog at https://joekay617.wordpress.com. His email address is listed on the blog, in case you care to contact him directly.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"The Perverted Theology That Supports Family Separation"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads

Subscribe