In the wake of news about separating immigrant families at the U.S./Mexico border in recent weeks, the silence from Trump’s evangelical advisory board as children are being ripped from their parents’ arms has been deafening. Pastors have a Christian duty to hold Jeff Sessions and his boss to account, especially in the wake of Sessions’ claim that Romans 13 supports such abject cruelty.
In fairness, some conservative religious leaders are speaking out. Franklin Graham, surprisingly, said in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful; it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” However, he rendered his criticism impotent in the next breath by saying he still supports Trump and blaming politicians of the last 20 to 30 years for creating the mess that has led to the current policy.
Many religious leaders, politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens have raised the alarm about the plight of these families in recent days. But if we’ve learned anything in the past 18 months, it’s that Trump cares not one iota for the opinions of those who consistently disagree with him and criticize him.
This is precisely the thing that gives Trump’s evangelical advisory board the power and responsibility to challenge him in a way that most of us cannot. Having helped catapult him into office, they have open access to him. He cannot be re-elected without them and the flocks they shepherd into the voting booths.
According to a New York Times article early this year, the Rev. Johnnie Moore estimates that he’s made dozens of visits to the White House since Trump took office. Moore says, “This White House, the front door is open to evangelicals. It hasn’t been evangelicals reaching into the White House. It’s been the White House reaching out to evangelicals. Not a day goes by when there aren’t a dozen evangelical leaders in the White House for something.”
While these pastors can make a rational argument for supporting Trump’s policies on issues such as abortion, there is no sound argument to justify the mistreatment of parents and children to, as Sessions said, send a message that, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out.”
Some of these pastors have doctorates from noted theological seminaries. They surely know that this policy blasphemes everything Jesus stood for. They surely know that the portion of scripture Sessions used from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is a twisted interpretation taken out of context. And if they’ve been listening, they must know that this same text was used during the Civil War to justify slavery and during the Civil Rights Movement to rationalize denying the rights of African-Americans.
This morning more than 600 ministers and laity of the United Methodist Church, of which Jeff Sessions is a member, wrote a letter to his church in Mobile, Alabama, and the church he attends in Alexandria, Virginia, filing a formal complaint for his actions. The complaint says that while many in the administration are causing harm, they feel compelled to challenge his thinking because, “He is ours, and we are his.”
So why are the pastors who most have Donald Trump’s ear failing to do the same?
If you are one of the pastors on Trump’s advisory board, you must know that Christ said this about our responsibility to challenge other Christians’ thinking:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.” (Luke 17: 1-3)
In recent days defenders of the children at the border have interpreted this text as Jesus saying it would be better to have a stone tied around your neck and be drowned than to harm a child. However, read in context, this passage is an even more serious charge to disciples to challenge the thinking of other disciples who have stumbled and lost their way.
As far as we can tell, none of the advisory board members have rebuked anyone in the Trump administration who has twisted the Word in support of misguided initiatives. If they cannot speak up to Trump and his disciples when families are being torn apart and children will likely suffer permanent damage, then when?
If you are a member of a church led by one of the pastors on Trump’s advisory board, then you, too, are a disciple who is responsible for calling out your pastors and the Trump administration.
And for those of us who are members of other Christian churches, we are not exempt from Christ’s call. All of us should be bombarding the advisory board and rebuking the offenders.
We can’t gain access to all of them, but many of them do have a presence on social media. Here are some of them who have pages on Facebook and Twitter:
I plan to take time today to contact each of these pastors and to respectfully challenge them not to be a millstone around the neck of Christianity. If you have a presence on social media, I urge you to do the same. Please take the time to respectfully call on these pastors to do what is right. Much access has been given to them, and because of that, much is expected of them.
They can do what the average Christian cannot—have a face-to-face conversation with the man in the Oval Office when he stumbles and strays. If they do not rebuke him now, then when? What cruelty will it take in the name of Christ for them to live up to the responsibility of their calling?
Right now they seem to be aiding and abetting an administration that has openly said it is trying to put the fear of God into those who might cross the border illegally.
I fear there is little we can do to put the fear of God into the advisory board. But if they do not join the chorus of Christians and citizens who are decrying the destruction of families, then they must answer to the God they’ve taught their flocks to fear.