Last week, several of the interfaith clergy in our community published a litany for children in detention centers. They requested clergy leaders read the litany in their homes of worship – not in a special vigil, but in the heart of where weekly prayer and formation take place. The litany was beautiful, and spoke to much of my own sense of despair about our treatment of children. But I found myself in a quandary. You see, my parish is a diverse one. We pride ourselves on being Christians of varying political opinions who respect one another enough to honor our political differences by kneeling as equals at the Lord’s table. In order to maintain that sense of respect, I am very careful about how I talk about current events. My goal is always to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the charge that we should engage in politics with the Gospel always in the forefront.
But the issue of children in detention centers tugs at me at two levels. On the one hand, this is very much an issue of politics – of how we manage the flow of immigrants and those seeking asylum into our country. I know our parishioners are of a divided mind on this issue – as is most of the country. The issue of our borders is vastly layered – were it not so, there would be clear, easy answers to very difficult questions. In addition to being a political, economical, sociological issue, this is a spiritual one as well. One’s sense of gratitude for our country’s blessings, one’s baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being, and one’s understanding of Christ’s command to love God and love neighbor collide with the realities of limited resources, stretched budgets, and funding priorities.
On the other hand, these are children. These are eight-year-olds caring for unrelated infants. These are nursing teen mothers with no diapers or place to lay their heads. These are toddlers who have no way to wash their hands or clean their soiled clothing. I look at my own children, who have every comfort they could ever need, and when I imagine them soiled, hungry, deprived of sleep, and so afraid that the color has drained from their faces, my heart shatters. I know this issue is truly complicated, and I know that philosophically we as a country need to decide how we will manage the treatment of our neighbors. But when I am hesitant to pray for the welfare of children in detention because it is politically complicated, I realize I am failing to live the Gospel life.
I cannot say I will ever be able to pray the litany presented by my interfaith brothers and sisters. Though it is beautiful, it is also politically motivated. But what I can tell you is, as a pastor and baptized child of God, I am praying for those children, praying for their mothers and fathers, and praying for our own souls as we figure out how to reckon politics and human dignity – how to be Americans and Christians. Given our country’s history, it would seem those two things fit together easily. But to be a good American and to be a good Christian both take intentionality, discernment, and prayer. May God bless us all as we seek to harmonize the two.