God, Border Laws and Desperate Mothers


Bible History is full of desperate mothers.  So is modern history. There is a connection.


The mother is fleeing through the desert with her boy, desperate to find a home. When her canteen runs dry, Hagar collapses in tears yards from her baby, because she can’t bear to watch him die.


The mother, barely able to see for her tears, steadies the reed basket holding infant Moses and with a prayer, releases it down the shore toward the foreign mothers bathing, hoping for a miracle.


The mother stands before the judge and king, Solomon, insisting that the other woman is an imposter who kidnapped her baby.  When the King announces that the disputed baby will die, the sobbing mother insists instead that the child be given to the other woman.


The mother is frantic to get to the border of Egypt with her toddler, Jesus, fearing that the authorities in her homeland will kill him. As they approach the border, she wonders, “what will we do if they don’t let us in?”


Our country’s leadership has re-shaped border enforcement to include separating children from their mothers. Why?  “They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason,” says White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, in an NPR interview, “but the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.” (https://www.npr.org/2018/06/18/620972542)


Forgive me, but Mr. Kelly and President Trump know nothing about desperate mothers.  Mothers will choose saving their child’s life, even if it means they may never see them again.  They will whisper goodbye and push their child down the Nile River.  They will say to the king, “give my child to that woman; just let the baby live.”  Mothers will hand their babies to foreigners, begging them to take them to safety on a plane to a faraway land. Mothers will leave their beloved homeland and take enormous risks to try and save the lives of their babies. Watch. Desperate mothers will continue to cross our southern border.


There may well be some mothers that are traveling a few miles simply to just get a nicer life, and they may think twice. But there are others, like Mary racing to the border of Egypt, who are desperate to secure their child’s life.  They will do whatever it takes to protect their child’s life, even if it means saying goodbye forever. That’s what mothers do. We must ask what we will do when they get here.


Separating children from their parents as a consequence for unlawful entry is a poor deterrent to desperate mothers.  But honestly, I don’t give a d*** about its deterrent value.  I care about its moral value. We who live in the country that is separating mothers and children at our southern border must ask if this is our finest hour.  We who follow Jesus in this country must ask if this fits the heart of our Lord and our God.


Mr. Sessions quoted the Bible in defense of American border enforcement, a verse about keeping the laws of the land.  I’m glad he got the Bible out, but there is more than one verse in the Bible, especially when it comes to how we respond to desperate immigrant mothers and their children. God is concerned that laws are respected.  But He is also concerned that laws are just. And so the prophet, Isaiah, warns:


Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV)


America is not immune to unjust laws. We must ask if our immigration entry laws favor the well-off and highly skilled over the desperate.  When it comes to our laws, what does God want us to do about desperate mothers?  We also must ask if our consequences are just. Even if a law is good and fair, its enforcement or consequence may not be. Is separating mothers and children a just consequence? As you ponder an answer, remember that God is passionate that desperate immigrants are treated fairly, repeatedly calling Israel—once a desperate immigrant people themselves—to protect desperate immigrants.


Oh, and there is one other thing that God is passionate about.  Mercy.  The mothers and children that have crossed our southern borders without permission have broken the law.  Mr. Sessions is right. But the God he quotes cares about more than simply law. The prophet Micah highlights God’s summary requirement for mankind:


“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)


Mercy—no, loving mercy—is a command.  A requirement. Being merciful is itself a law.  Enforcing border laws, are we violating the law of mercy with desperate immigrant mothers? The question matters deeply to Jesus.  He spoke a word to the authorities of his day, a word that is powerfully relevant to our border law enforcement:


“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV)


“Yes, you kept the laws, but you missed the bigger laws about justice and mercy.” Jesus affirms the place of law.  Laws are important for a just society. There is a place for border entry laws. But in enforcing our laws, we can miss the “more important” matters of faithfulness, justice, and mercy. We can, and we have. When it comes to separating desperate mothers and their children at our border, we have nailed the law, but we have crucified mercy.


*** (fill in the four letter word with which you are most comfortable)



[feature picture from heblo on Pixabay.com]


  1. Joanna R. Himes-Murphy

    Exactly….all the things I’ve been thinking, all the Bible verses I have used this week to try to talk to people!

    1. Post
      Roger Martin

      It is a tough, emotional issue, and I am just hoping to enter into a substantive conversation about it. Thankfully, our President has changed the policy, though other parts of our immigration policy need help as well. Thanks for reading.

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