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2 Questions in Response to ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy

In my remarks at a recent immigration action in Nashville, Tennessee, I spoke as a faith leader.

I reminded those gathered that Christians worship a Creator who fashioned all humanity as one family, one people, one expression of the image of God in each and every one of us. I asked God’s blessings and mercy upon those who gathered for the march.

I spoke about immigrants from the Bible, calling particular attention to:

  • Mary who took her baby Jesus and fled with Joseph from one dangerous empire to another, seeking asylum and safety for her family.
  • Joseph who heard the angel of the Lord saying in a dream: Get up and take Mary your beloved and Jesus your child to Egypt to escape King Herod and his empire of death and destruction. Joseph got up that very night, departing with his family to another country.
  • Jesus who was born in a strange town under the roof of¬†strangers and who fled as a child for his safety, who migrated throughout his life from country to country, town to town, place to place, not as an enemy or as a criminal but as a child of love, as a teacher on a mission of love, as one seeking to embody and share the love of God with everyone he met.

I shared the story of Jesus at the temple. When he was yet a child and not quite an adult, Jesus became separated from his parents as they traveled from Jerusalem to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52). His parents each thought he was safe with the other, but he was in fact with neither of them.

When they realized he was missing, Jesus’ parents became alarmed because he was not safely among relatives or friends.

Mary and Joseph returned anxiously along the road seeking their son with all their hearts and all their energies.

And when they found him, he was sitting in the temple, the religious center of his day and his people, asking questions and listening to the elders.

Mary asked, “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried sick and searching for you!”

The boy Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be doing God’s business?”

But in that moment, they did not understand what Jesus was saying.

Today, and in this cultural and social moment, both Mary’s question and Jesus’ question give us guidance for our actions in Nashville: Our action is to change the policies of locking families up.

Mary asked, “Why have you treated us like this?”

And we can ask with Mary:

  • On behalf of all parents who care for children and are separated from them;
  • On behalf of all families who must flee the violence of empires;
  • On behalf of our neighbors in Nashville who are being separated from their families;
  • On behalf of all children who have been taken from parents for reasons that are unjust.

“Why have you treated us like this?”

We must ask Mary’s question to the elders, the political and religious leaders of Nashville and leaders all across the nation, the Herods and temple leaders of our day.

Because when you treat one of us this way, you treat all of us this way.

Jesus asked, “Why have you searched for me? Don’t you know I have to be doing God’s business?”

If you are searching for Jesus, if you are looking for him, look no further than the children and families at the border. Look no further than the children and families of Nashville who have migrated here.

God’s business is with the children and families on the border and the children and families who have migrated to Nashville and other cities and towns across our nation.

God’s business is to accompany those who are fleeing violence. God’s business is to resist violence and seek peace and healing.

God’s business is the dismantling of empire and all the suffering it causes. God’s business is seeking love and justice for the oppressed. God’s business is dismantling the powers of white supremacy and the abuses of power.

We take action today by asking Mary’s question. “Why have you treated us like this?”

Why have you treated our neighbors with disrespect and disdain, locking them up simply for seeking a safe and peaceful place to live?

We¬†must take action by asking Jesus’s question. “Don’t you know we have to be doing God’s business?”

God’s business is to love our neighbors, not to misuse the power of the state or to ignore the power of the church when we lock families up, separate families and deport people who are fleeing violence and oppression.

We can do better than this. We can do God’s business.

I pray that God will give us the courage of Joseph to act quickly when we know the right thing to do, the insight and compassion of Mary to ask hard questions and seek to reunite families, and the wisdom and the willingness of Jesus to do God’s business in Nashville and in other cities and towns and at the border where God calls us to action.

Amen. Or as I like to say it, “I’m in.”

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Campbell-Reed’s website and is used with permission. It is adapted from a homily offered on June 23 as “part of an action to ‘Stop Jailing Families,’ which called on Nashville, Tennessee, Mayor Briley and Sheriff Hall to untangle their relationship with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and stop detaining immigrants, separating families and operating internment camps. The action ended by delivering these demands to the sheriff’s office.”

Eileen R. Campbell-Reed

Eileen R. Campbell-Reed is coordinator for coaching, mentoring and internship as well as associate professor of practical theology at the Nashville, Tennessee, campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS).