I am not sure how people of faith, especially those who say their faith guides them in matters of public policy, are able to reconcile not first reacting with compassion to the plight of Central American children.
While we may not like or appreciate how the children arrived on our doorstep, and even while we may debate federal immigration law and procedures, spiritual teachings are clear. We should care for and protect children.
Pope Francis recently noted the mandate.
“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected,” he said as part of a message sent to a global conference in Mexico on July 15.
Closer to home, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin voiced similar concerns during a Congressional hearing this week.
“I have a problem with those who are saying on one hand we have to send these kids back as soon as possible. Then on the other they say that they are escaping violence, drugs, sexual abuse and gangs. How do you reconcile those two points?” he asked.
“Our focus should be simply first making sure that these kids are safe, fed, clothed, sheltered, and that they have every meaningful opportunity to apply for relief under our laws and under international laws.”
The words of these two men stand in stark contrast to the leadership displayed by Gov. Terry Branstad, who has refused to bring such children to Iowa while they await immigration processing. During a meeting last weekend with the U.S. Department of Human Services, Branstad suggested the plight of the children be used as a tool to paper-check their relatives in the U.S.
It isn’t too difficult to imagine Branstad as the gruff neighbor, yelling at children to stay off his lawn while simultaneously deriding their caregivers as incompetent and unworthy.
Branstad would, I’m sure, remind me his work as governor does and should not directly tangle with his religious belief. But that’s a difficult stance when it is obvious religion can play a role with the Branstad administration when it meshes nicely with polling data.
After all, this is the same Governor that bowed to pressure by arguably the most religious conservative wing of his party to issue a proclamation July 14 be a day of Christian prayer and repentance.
The “If 7:14” prayer campaign, the brainchild of Iowa’s infamous Bob Vander Plaats, suggested Christians watch a live-steam of worship at the Iowa Capitol on July 14. If like-minded Christians will set alarms on their phone each day at 7:14 in the morning and the evening, the campaign touts, they can revive the nation by moving it away from a narrow view of what is wicked and toward acceptable holiness.
Our Governor, like most politicians, is fond of calling upon God to bless Iowa and our nation. It is a good, if exclusive, sentiment, but does skip over the fact we are already blessed. And, as numerous scriptures in the Bible and other holy texts expound, the blessed are obligated to help.
If only we had someone willing to step out of politics long enough to lead.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 19, 2014. Photo credit: Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters