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People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Luke 18:15-17

Jesus calling and blessing the children doesn’t seem too radical to our contemporary sensibilities. And yet, within the ancient world, it was scandalous. The world belonged to rich powerful men. Children? They were nothing—on the same level as slaves. They were property, with no rights of their own. The message Jesus proclaims is that not only the world, but the Kingdom of God belongs to them. To the point that anyone who doesn’t become a child, anyone who refuses to lose their status in the eyes of the powers that be, “will never enter it.” This is juxtaposed with the story of the Rich Ruler. “A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He was looking for confirmation, instead he ended up “sad, for he was very rich.” He was told that they way into God’s kingdom is through the eye of the needle. Instead of making oneself big with status and wealth, one must become small—one must become nothing in the eyes of the world. The way up is the way down, becoming like a child, giving up all rights and status. Read it for yourself, it’s straight from Luke’s gospel.

The past few days have seen troubling statements from people in power. When asked if Iowa would take in children being housed at the border, Governor Reynolds replied, “This is not our problem. This is the president’s problem. He is the one that opened the borders. He needs to be responsible for this, and he needs to stop it.” Not to be out done, the Governor of South Dakota tweeted, “South Dakota won’t be taking any illegal immigrants that the Biden Administration wants to relocate. My message to illegal immigrants… call me when you’re an American.” Jesus says that one enters the Kingdom of God by becoming like a child—by losing our status in the world; these Governors, both of whom claim pro-life platforms, have slammed the door shut.

Where are the Kierkegaards of our day to remind us that true faith is not found in religion, moral platitudes, or political platforms? Faith is being confronted with the word God speaks and obeying. How many today would justify not walking the road to Mount Moriah based upon pro-life principles? Where are the Bonhoeffer’s of our day, who challenge us to no longer live in the abstract? Who remind us that asking the question “Who is my neighbor?” is a question of disobedience. By asking the question, we try to differentiate, to justify inaction when confronted with the needs of the world. Bonhoeffer writes, “Who is my neighbor? is the final question of despair or hubris, in which disobedience justifies itself. The answer is: You yourself are the neighbor. Go and be obedient in acts of love.” (Cost of Discipleship)

The question facing the Christian community at this moment is this: Do we really believe what Jesus says? If so, are we ready to set aside our status, or privilege, for the sake of our neighbor?

The incarnate one transforms his disciples into brothers and sisters of all human beings. The “philanthropy” (Titus 3:4) of God that becomes evident in the incarnation of Christ is the reason for Christians to love every human being on earth as brother or sister. The form of the incarnate one transforms the church-community into the body of Christ upon which all of humanity’s sin and trouble fall, and by which alone these troubles and sins are borne.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer Cost of Discipleship

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

12 Comments

  • mstair says:

    “They were nothing—on the same level as slaves. They were property,…”

    Succinct analysis of Jesus’ teaching.
    Then, we Kingdom Seekers – willingly giving up ourselves, becoming God’s property – should obey His commands to us and “demonstrate mercy.”
    And when our government fails to do so … shall we go to the border to do so …?
    I suspect – en route – we’ll find a local opportunity that (like The Samaritan) requires our immediate attention…

    Your good reminder to me today … analyzing the call should be the briefest part of demonstrating mercy …

  • Robert Otte says:

    Thank you

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Jason, as always, you challenge. Thank you. This whole situation dienfranchises. Not that long ago, the left cries out for inhumane behavior at the border, while the Administration says, “Stay away.” Now, the right rallies with cries of “crisis” and “open borders” and the Administration stays quiet. The truth is by the end the previous Administration sought to follow the law to process children (albeit only after losing in court and being made to do so) and the current one is doing the exact same thing. No one, left, right, or center seems to want to admit that the system is broken, and no one seems to want to do the hard work of working on a solution. Everyone is driven by demonization and political convenience. As Christians, it would do us well to cry out for truth and justice. The system is overwhelmed, and we refuse to enlarge it to handle the problem. The land from which these refugees flee are overrun with fear from tyrants, most of which we established for our own political reasons and keep in power for the resources they supple for us. We’re called to love the “stranger” (we might say immigrant or refugee-those seeking refugee or a home or justice) because all of us seek these things (Deut. 10:18-19). Why are we not part of the solution, a voice in the wilderness crying out make straight the way for our Lord? I’m interested in solutions rather than political platitudes meant to strike blows or win points by TV appearances. It might begin with confession for what we’ve done to create the problem and making amends in ways that are within our power to undo our mistakes and in the meantime provide solutions for those who suffer through unintended consequences of our actions.
    https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/central-america-migrant-crisis-foreign-policy-trump/

  • Doug VandeGriend says:

    This article lacks needed nuance, at a minimum. Neither the governor of Iowa (of SD) nor any other Iowa official, elected or otherwise, has the power to deny Iowans from taking in refugees, whether those quickly amassing at the US southern border or otherwise. It is the federal government that has sole jurisdiction to allow or deny physical admission to the United States, including to any of its states, regardless of what state governments might say.

    Biden insists on wielding the sole power and authority he has to make decisions predictably resulting in an unmanageable situation (persons from other countries unlawfully crossing the US border en masse), but now he is asking state governments to share in the responsibility for those predictable consequences of his decisions. The governor of Iowa (and SD) are merely saying that if Biden wants to solely exercise the power he has, he needs to take sole responsibility for the decisions he makes exercising that power. To do otherwise is classic enabling behavior — seems nice but is destructive to all.

    But back to real people, living in Iowa or otherwise: you may and perhaps even should let the federal government know that you or your family would be delighted to take in adults, children, or families that are now amassed at the southern border, whether or not they entered lawfully, whether or not they qualify for asylum. This is what Biden wants state governments to do, but if state governments agreed, they would likely seek persons and families (like you) within their respective states to be homes to those now amassed at the border. So, why not just cut out the middleman (the state government) and deal directly with Biden (the federal government)? You don’t need the permission of your state’s governor to provide a home for a “refugee” (however defined), so talk to the federal government and arrange with them to do it.

    Complaining that your state government is not acting in a Christlike way is merely passing the buck. Scripture calls people to be Christlike, not to pass the buck for doing so to their state governments. And if you think agreeing to house those that Biden has invited it is in fact not enabling his bad behavior, then you should ask to receive the responsibility of housing and otherwise providing for them.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      Doug,
      I agree there is nuance needed but so much of what you say is questionable.
      https://apnews.com/article/9f2ead13fa2b3d70dd610b8724234332

      This article informs that the previous administration empowered states to say whether they would accept refugees. And there was struggle on whether to do so or not (nuance). Interestingly, both Iowa and SD agreed to accept refugees in 2020. Four months into 2021 and they no longer are willing. What has changed?
      For some nuance, Biden’s EO 13013 rescinding this action, so States can no longer refuse refugee resettlement, but again, why say yes to refugee resettlement when it was legal to say no, and now say no to resettlement, when it is no longer legal to do so. There is a message here and I’d be curious to discover what the point of this recent refusal of refugees is actually saying.

      One possible change is an increase in immigration, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This article provides some nuance about the factors that lead to immigrantion and migrants who are seeking asylum. There are pull factors (economic, family, changed administration) and push factors (corruption, violence, economic deprivation). To ignore one is to ignore the nuance that all presidents and administrations face.
      https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/20/us/politics/fact-check-immigration-border.html

      Individuals cannot contact the federal government, nor the current administration. Please don’t do that. This article is helpful in describing how churches or individuals can help with this great need.
      https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/resettlement-in-the-united-states.html

      This is not simply a federal program with no state input. States take on most the responsibility for Refugee resettlement. This is why the 1980 Refuge Act moved to provide federal financial support for states. Of course, agencies coordinate with states to gett his work done, but when governors shut down there borders or pull out of participation with the program, agencies are left to do all the work and are strained to do it all. It is not true to say that the federal government does it all and we can just skip the middleman (the state). Our federalist system is instituted to keep this very thing from happening.
      https://cis.org/Report/Do-States-Have-Say-Refugee-Resettlement-Program

      One last thing by way of nuance, the NY Times reported today that the current Administration is leaving the cap on refugee admissions at the levels the previous administration set (an historic low), even though it promised to raise these levels. As Christians, I believe this calls for condemnation and a call to live out Deuteronomy 10:18-19.
      It is hard for “individuals” or the NGOs agencies (9 total, many of which are faith based) to do the work necessary when we refuse to welcome those who face threats and suffering that we have caused (at least in Central America).
      And, just so we’re clear, most instances of illegal immigration happen by over staying a visa, not border crossing, and the vast majority of border crossing, especially by those seeking asylum, is done legally, submitting to authorities and claiming asylum.

      To my mind, this is nuance, and it helps to really dig in to understand what is happening and how we can lift our voices to call for repentance, truth, and new just action.
      Sorry for the length.

      • Doug VandeGriend says:

        Rodney: I quite disagree with your disagreement with me, as to the facts. 🙂

        While it is not currently the way assimilation of refugees happens, no state has the legal authority to tell persons or families that they may not or shall not be a host to someone, whether that someone is your aunt, a homeless person from your town, or a Honduran family who illegally crossed the southern border.

        It is true that the federal and state governments have entered into cooperative agreements about “providing for refugees” and those relationships are quite in flux if you will, but that relates to the federal government and state GOVERNMENTS, not you and your house. Plus of course, the federal government make rules that in turn are part of the agreements they have with state GOVERNMENTS, that might disqualify refugees taken in by private persons from accessing certain federal programs (e.g., TANF and the like), but again, state GOVERNMENTS have no legal power to tell private persons who they may have stay in their house with them, nor share their resources with. You could replace the benefits that TANF (etc) might otherwise provide. (My church actually did this in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, taking in southeast Asians, post VietNam war).

        What you want to happen, Rodney, is that STATE GOVERNMENTS join with the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT in a way so that the states effectively agree with the current administration to take on some of the obligations/responsibilities of the federal government in exchange for giving certain funds to the states to help them do that. Yes, it would be my political position that when the federal government (in particular a presidential administration) acts in such a reckless way to create such a out-of-control situation as the Biden administration has, it would be irresponsible (enabling in a bad way) for STATES to simply acquiesce. (That’s my political posture and you don’t have to agree).

        We teach children to clean up the messes they intentionally make (authority means responsibility). In this case, that rather simple principle should be followed. But that doesn’t mean you or I should turn out backs on real people. Yes, in saying this, I understand that sometime I need to wear my “political hat” (decide what makes for good government policy) and sometime I need to wear my “person to person hat” (decide how I should respond to needs of my neighbor. A good percentage of my own physical neighbors are “immigrants,” many likely “illegal.” I don’t attempt to find our their “status” or pay attention to that in any way when I “live with them” because of the hat I wear when I “live with them.” But that doesn’t mean I should advocate for bad government legal policy as to immigration (whether from the south or otherwise).

        I know it can be difficult to keep the “hats” separated but I believe we must if we are to be responsibly people and citizens. And in doing that, it is good to actually be aware of the real (legal) facts about the law relating to immigration and the relative power and rights of the federal and state governments. As to the latter, I’ll repeat again that no state government has the legal power to keep you from housing and providing for Hondurans in your home, legal or not. Now, you may not prefer to do so without the blessing and ($) benefits that you might otherwise (or the Hondurans you house) receive from the federal and state governments, and your state government disagreement with the fed might be the cause for those federal ($) benefits to be reduced (by not “cooperating” with the federal government) but just maybe that shouldn’t matter to you.

        BTW, the articles you link to also fail to provide nuance. These days, far too much is done by governments as opposed to people, which is why articles like these lack nuance (especially about the law). And in terms of contacting the federal government? You say incorrectly say “Individuals cannot contact the federal government, nor the current administration.” That’s just silly. Of course they can, although it is likely that individuals won’t get a response back. Indeed, these days, governments (especially the federal) don’t like dealing with individuals, (except to collect taxes of course) preferring to deal with other governments and very large organization.

        So if you like, contact World Renew or your favorite non-profit that the federal government is likely already talking to. Let them know of your wanting to take in and provide for an immigrant individual or family — and tell them you would provide for all their needs without seeking government benefit programs for them (e.g., TANF etc). If enough people say they’ll take in refugees without supporting federal dollars, I can almost guarantee the current administration will take note. The problem of course, is that while many (most?) people who want the US and the various states to take in refugees, they won’t to do that with other peoples’ money (that is, taxes). Be different — offer to fund it yourself and encourage others to do the same. This is what distinguished the early church, who provide for the poor without asking Rome to fund it.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Jason, I believe you say it correctly. We should be like Jesus and taking in the poor, hungry, and destitute.

  • Dean Koopman says:

    What jumps out to this accountant is the that the plane of the discussion lies solely within obligation or -more accurately – cost. This is an opportunity for us “The Church” to demonstrate the love of Christ to a hurting and watching world, one we may too easily miss.
    Like calling the third section of the Heidelberg Catechism “Service” versus “Thanksgiving” distorts the proper response to the gift of salvation, so view this situation an obligation versus an opportunity or more correctly, a gift distorts our response to these children. We know all children are a gift from God – parental experiences notwithstanding.
    PD James in her novel “The Children of Men” crafted a dystopian world where pregnancy and childbirth simply stopped. James wrote it as an anti-abortion allegory, but abortion and other factors – societal, biological, financial, etc. – are slowly making the novel prophetic. “Peak” population is projected around the end of this century. Rapidly aging countries like Japan and Russia are significantly closer overall population decline with Europe not far behind. Furthermore, strict immigration policies in certain countries are creating an impending elder care crisis – see Japan.
    The Biblical mandate must be the bedrock of our commitment to serve and support these image-bearers. At the same time, the cultural, societal, and economic benefits that accrue from welcoming them is part of God’s blessing for heeding His call in this arena.
    For me, this is an area where a good God makes good works and good business intersect.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Thanks for sharing this issue. Living in Arizona, I have Christian friends who are very ambivalent about the plight of children and other illegal immigrants, now overwhelming the resources of the small border towns. Reports are that border agents sometimes abandon immigrants in the desert, 30 miles from nowhere, knowing that many will die of heat and thirst. It seems wrong to ignore the law, and also wrong to cause suffering of individuals in order to support a political position. Can we divide this issue? Can I extend mercy to the illegals who are already here, and at the same time lobby the politicians to find a solution to the immigration mess? Regardless of what the governor of your state says or whether you agree with him, your church can still extend the love of Christ to the powerless and suffering ones.

    • Doug VandeGriend says:

      Indeed we can “divide this issue,” and we should — see my response above to Rod Haveman. Today’s problem is that too many who desire to do charitable work insist that it be done, whether entirely or partially, with government’s (other peoples’) money. That is a relatively new posture in our (American) society, historically speaking, and its not a good trend.

      It used to be understood that “welcome the stranger” meant you and I should “welcome the stranger” (the homeless, the traveler, the alien, the poor). Today, it is all by conclusively assumed that “welcome the stranger” means to lobby your state or federal government. Not a good change.

  • Angie Langstaff says:

    I read your article in the Rapid City Journal about Governor Noem. I am a South Dakotan and though a huge supporter, of Gov Noem, I was also highly disappointed in the response she had concerning SD not taking immigrants. For a state that values giving people the right to make decisions, I find it disappointing that she’s shut the door on those within the state that might want to help. I also agree with your ideas on people being the resource rather than relying on government resources.
    Sometimes, I feel that the American Church has lost her way.
    Thanks for your boldness on this topic. It may not be a popular idea to hold as an America Christian or even as a conservative like myself. But if we’re truly followers of Christ, we must uphold His Word first above our political views.

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