The Eastern PA Annual Conference contributed its voice to thousands of other organizations and countless individuals that brought an end to an admittedly heinous, new federal policy of separating undocumented parents and children immigrating here from Latin American countries. Many are coming to apply for asylum as refugees from extreme gang violence and threats back home.
The conference unanimously approved June 15 an emergency, bilingual resolution that called on the U.S. government to end its much-criticized new policy, calling it a “violation of international law.” The resolution cited the “traumatic” separation and incarceration of children in secretive detention centers that are operating outside the purview of elected officials.
President Donald J. Trump signed an order Wednesday discontinuing the practice, in response to a furor of protests from parents, immigration advocates, religious groups and many other voices around the nation.
Written and presented in English and Spanish, during the legislative session’s final hour, the Eastern PA Conference resolution requested that “the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a United Methodist lay person, immediately discontinue separating children from their families through the ‘zero tolerance’ policy.” It further urged bipartisan legislation to end this “child separation policy.
“There are few things more grievous than this inhumane treatment of children being separated from their parents as part of a ‘deterrent’ for refugees coming into our country,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson. “Everyone should do something to raise concern with our lawmakers. Call, email, text or write letters. The outcry needs to be strong and sure! Who is going to speak for these families if we remain silent?”
Indeed, a “strong and sure” outcry no doubt led to the President’s change in policy, including many voices from his own Republican party and supportive base.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ quoting of a New Testament verse to justify the new zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration also brought much criticism from religious leaders, including fellow United Methodists. Sessions is a longtime member of Ashland Place UMC in Mobile, Alabama. He used—or many would say, misused—the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13 in a June 14 speech to defend the Trump administration’s tougher approach on immigration as being not only in the national interest but also biblically correct to ensure that immigrants “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, head of the UMC Board of Church and Society and one of many religious leaders to criticize Sessions’ remarks, said responded that “to argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation and a shocking violation of the spirit of the gospel.”
Retired United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder also took to Facebook, saying: “Using the Bible to justify intentionally orphaning children is a form of blasphemy against God and a gross distortion of Holy Scripture.”
The Rio Texas Conference also approved an emergency resolution June 9, requesting the Justice Department “immediately discontinue separating children from their families due to the ‘zero tolerance’ policy.” The resolution noted that the conference has within its borders some of the detention centers used by authorities in carrying out the policy.
The UM Council of Bishops also issued a statement against the practice, as did the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. “Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them,” the bishops wrote in their statement, “is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.”
According to CNN, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that about 2,000 children were separated from parents at the border from April 19 to May 31 this year, due to new policies. That number began escalating this month.
“When I see and hear the children crying when separated from their mothers and fathers, I think of Jesus telling the Disciples to ‘let the children come to me,’ said Ruth Daugherty, co-chair of the Eastern PA Conference’s Immigration Rapid Response Network. “I picture Jesus lovingly and tenderly holding the children–wanting them to know that they are important, loved, and safe. Are we not called to follow Jesus’ example to see that these children are held by the ones who love them and want them to be safe?”
“This is just insane. God have mercy” said the other co-chair, the Rev. Lillian “Luky” Cotto (pictured left), who said she may participate in a protest march in Austin, Texas, Thursday when she arrives for a family visit. The two co-chairs presented the resolution near the close of Saturday’s conference session. “I just pray for those families. God is in control.”
Be sure to read Bishop Peggy Johnson essay calling on us to actively observe