DACA and the Family of God
With the recent decision by the Trump administration to bring an end to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) you have probably noticed that many Churches, (including my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) have spoken out against the decision. The Church, of course, risks criticism, because it is getting involved in the complicated politics of immigration and refugees. Yet, even at the risk of criticism, the Church is compelled to speak out against a decision that will not just divide families, but knowingly break families apart causing untold grief, but also send them “home” to countries they have never known.
It should not strike anyone as strange or unusual that the Church should speak out for the preservation of families. The story of our relationship with the Triune God is in many ways a story about families. The call of Abraham and Sarah and the promise of a great nation is built upon the family and the gift of Isaac. The story of the Jacob and Esau is not only about the building of a people, it is the story of brotherly affection, jealousy, contention, and reconciliation. The Fourth Commandment, Honor your Father and your Mother is fundamentally about the sanctity of family relationships. The sin of King David in taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, had grave consequences for David’s family and Israel, and throughout the prophetic books, allusions are made to the unfaithfulness of Israel (most usually as spouse).
The New Testament’s great story is built upon the foundation of the Holy Family. None of it works without Mary’s faithfulness, Joseph’s obedience, and their willingness to see Jesus not as an obligation, but as a gift. The Incarnate Savior was nurtured in a human family, and even more so, in a community that was bound together by a common faith and vision. The first great miracle in John’s Gospel revolves around the joy of marriage…the beginning of family life. The raising of Lazarus speaks powerfully to the pull that family had in Jesus’ own life. That the Church is the bride of Christ is reflective of the divine nature of family. Many of the stories and parables Jesus told were developed around family. The story we know as The Prodigal Son is a story of discovery of the self within the context of family, as well as a story of undeserved love and reconciliation. It also helps us imagine the nature of God’s grace and mercy. When the disciples grew weary of children, Jesus said, “do not hinder the children from coming to me. To such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” Even the powerless little ones have their place in Jesus heart. Jesus’ concern for the welfare of his mother is stated clearly from the cross, “Women, behold your son. Behold your mother,” as if to say at its best, at the center of human life is the family…the place where we receive our identity, where we are loved, and known. The Church recognizes in its own story that the family is the place of the greatest struggle and tension, but also the center of our greatest joys. It is also the place where, at least from a Lutheran perspective, we learn and practice what vocation is all about.
Usually, when we think of vocation, it’s all about our calling out there in the world, and indeed many of us have a work vocation. However, our first vocation is in the home. Yes, it is a vocation to be a child in the household; a brother or sister. It is a vocation to be a parent. What more important work does God call us to do than to raise children? (I know there are days when children seem more obligation than gift, and parenting a job rather than a calling, but there are also days, and I hope many more than not, when the obligations of parenting are subsumed into just how beautiful thing it is to watch children grow, and be a part of it.)
When we speak of Holy Communion as a foretaste of the feast to come, we rely on the imagery of families gathered at special times like Thanksgiving and Christmas, to express the joy of such feasting. In our weekly celebrations of the Eucharist, simple bread and wine are served, but in the eating and drinking we are drawn into and united in the body of Christ, and we speak of being united with one another, with the families who have gone before us, and people all over the world we have not met…in simplest terms the family of God…
…and family is transcendent. Family transcends time. Family transcends borders. Family transcends the notions of origin and place, which brings us to another of the Bible’s and therefore Christianity’s great themes. The Bible is filled with the movement of people as God’s plan for humanity unfolds. Adam and Eve left the garden of Eden, Noah built an arc, Sarah and Abraham left their home and were called to a new home far away from the old, the Hebrews were called out of Egypt and promised a new home. During the Babylonian exile the Israelites wrote of their desire to return to their homes, but many labored to build new lives in their new land.
For the family of Jesus, it seems that moving, and transcending borders meant survival. Obediently, Joseph kept his little family together, first by marrying Mary, and then by fleeing with her and Jesus to Egypt; eventually returning to Nazareth where Jesus was raised. Interestingly, when Jesus healed people, he didn’t send them on missionary journeys to trumpet their new life…he sent them home. Even Lazarus was sent back to his home to live with his sisters. As the apostles journeyed they stayed at the homes of those willing to receive them…and that reception was a sign of the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the spread of the Gospel itself is the story of movement from one place to the next. Paul and Luke crossed dozens of borders to share the good news.
As the Church understands its own story, as it envisions Joseph doing his utmost to save his family, as it is reminded of Abraham and Sarah on their way to a new land, as it sees Jesus’ attention to the mother of Peter when she had fallen ill, along with the myriad of other stories centered on familial reconciliation and restoration, it understands the importance of family at the center of our relationship with God.
The church has also witnessed with the rest of the world the horrors of families broken apart and forcibly separated. Here in the U.S. we are only now beginning to come to terms with our own role in the destruction of Native American Families and the long term and devastating problems that are the result. Even today many of our fellow citizens have difficulty in even admitting, much less coming to terms with the forced separation of African American families in ante bellum America. Certainly we are not so far removed from the devastation of Jewish families caused by the Holocaust, that the pain is abated.
So it is, that the Church is compelled to stand with families and oppose the end of the DACA program. There simply is no compelling reason to send the children of illegal immigrants to nations they have never known as home, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to be neighbor to those in need and welcome the sojourner among us. Most surely, as Christians, if we want each and every human being to know that they are a child of God, we need to welcome them as beloved brothers and sisters. In doing so, we make the Gospel story our own.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, when the son who had left returned home, the brother who remained was resentful and would not go into the house and join the celebration. The father had a different perspective, “you brother who was dead is alive, we had to celebrate.” Would that all of our hearts were changed to be like that of the father, recognizing that there is a place for everyone at the table and the presence of each is a cause for celebration.