As immigrant families are torn apart, two South Asian American pastors speak out
As South Asian American women and ordained Christian pastors in northern California, we take the Bible seriously. We take it seriously enough to know that manipulating the Bible to justify the separation of families seeking asylum at the border, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done, is outright unbiblical.
It is possible to be selective with religious teachings to suit anyone’s purpose. But the Trump administration is using the words of Christianity not to adhere to the teachings of the Hebrew Prophets and of Jesus, but instead to fulfill their own malicious agenda concerning immigration policies.
Over the past two months, the federal government has separated nearly 2,000 children from their families. Parents are told that their children are being taken away for baths as the separation process is underway. Meanwhile, their parents are being sent to federal prisons or detention centers to await prosecution for violating our country’s immigration laws.
“As both Christians and citizens of the United States, we are enraged.”
As both Christians and citizens of the United States, we are enraged that our faith is being desecrated and exploited to uphold cruel and inhumane policies. We also know that this is not a new occurrence.
Any religion can be conscripted to serve the purposes of those in control. Over the course of hundreds of years, Christianity has been manipulated to serve as a tool of empire. “Convert or eliminate” was the slogan of so-called Christians who sought to use the Bible to advance their political views and to uphold such inhumane treatment as slavery, genocide of indigenous peoples, and the Holocaust.
Now, the Trump administration is following the same pattern.
As South Asians and Christians, we feel the impact of the separation of families on a personal level. Recently, 123 people seeking asylum at the border were moved to a federal prison in Oregon, and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) reports that a majority of them are South Asians, “who speak primarily Hindi and Punjabi.” According to an investigative report, several identified as “Sikhs or Christians fleeing religious persecution.” They do not have access to translators, counsel, and information about the location of their family members.
“As South Asians and Christians, we feel the impact of the separation of families on a personal level.”
As children of immigrants from India, we have learned from our parents how difficult it is for immigrants to make the decision to migrate, leaving the places and people they call home. We also know the discrimination, hostility, and outsider status that immigrants endure when they are in the United States. Forced relocation and imprisonment are an added physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual trauma.
As Christians, we believe in imago dei, that every unique human being is created in the holy image of God. The Christians of this administration do not see families seeking asylum as created in the image of God; instead, these families are not just violently separated, but the children are treated no better than dogs as they are placed in separate detention centers.
As citizens of the United States, we believe that anyone within the borders of this country has the right to safety and humane treatment. Placing helpless children, those that Jesus Christ called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), in separate detention centers from their parents is instead terrifying, traumatizing, and violent.
We seriously question the integrity of those in this administration who call themselves citizens and Christians.
As Christians, the time to cry “Enough” has long passed. This administration has used the Bible and a perverted form of Christianity to advance policies of oppression.
“The religion that this administration’s spokespersons actually worship is a religion of white supremacy grounded in fear and dealing in death and torture.”
The religion that this administration’s spokespersons actually worship is a religion of white supremacy grounded in fear and dealing in death and torture instead of the life and love we recognize throughout the Bible. In effect, they have weaponized the Bible to serve the religion of white supremacy, making the Bible a weapon that hurts and kills God’s beloved children, children on the margins.
So what role can those of us who are Christian play to be faithful in this moment? How can Christians stand up to this manipulation of the Bible?
“People of faith must show up.”
Institutions of faith must put out public statements condemning the separation of families and ensure that they can be safe sanctuaries for immigrants. People of faith must show up at detention centers and federal prisons holding detainees and be part of interfaith delegations.
The time for preaching cautiously is at an end. Sermons in faith must be grounded in history and the current political climate, not whitewash or ignore what is happening outside the doors of our churches.
As pastors, we treasure the Bible story of Jesus telling his disciples to “let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). We know that the overarching narrative of the Bible calls us constantly to serve and accompany those at the margins of society; such a liberating narrative supersedes any single verse selected from the Bible to serve as a tool of oppression and death.
Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is a frequent writer and speaker on the intersections of faith and race.
Rev. Sandhya Jha, an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is the director of the Oakland (CA) Peace Center and is a prolific writer on the subject of race and faith.