Will we be chaplains of the empire, or chaplains of the resistance?

by Tammerie Day

Two young parents, María and José, left home in the middle of the night, carrying their newborn son, Jèsus. A power-hungry dictator and terrible political situation made it unsafe for the small family to remain at home, and they fled across the border to another country for sanctuary.

Sound familiar? It should. This story from Matthew 2:13-14 has been playing out on the U.S. border for months, finally grabbing headlines recently as the U.S. president and attorney general declared a “zero tolerance” policy for persons crossing the border to request political asylum, resulting in the separation of infants, children and teenagers from their parents. Images, videos and sound recordings of babies and children wailing out their loneliness and fear created a firestorm of criticism, from First Ladies to rank-and-file folks. The president ended the policy by fiat, and a federal judge insisted on family reunification.

But rescission of the policy came too late for thousands of children. More than 2,300 children were separated from 2,200 adults between May and June 2018. This figure does not include additional children separated from parents in April and previous months.[i] Of these, approximately half have been reunited with their parents, a reunification consisting of parents and children dumped at South Texas bus stations and churches, relying on charitable strangers for support. Hundreds cannot be reunited, either because their parents were deported with little to no tracking or connecting data, or because the government asserts criminality (never mind the lack of due process). Many parents deported without their children were lied to, told deportation was key to reunification with their children.

Many of these children will never be reunited. Our country has effectively abducted babies and children from their parents. The reason there was no reunification plan in place? Because there was no plan for reunification.

“Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’" – Matthew 2:17-18 

I am enraged. And as a chaplain educator, I am heartbroken, because I can see the wreckage of this travesty stretching out through decades, lives, generations.[ii] My critical awareness of this reality is that these children are being traumatized by removal from their attachment figures, and that this damage will reverberate through their minds and spirits and bodies, down to the cellular level, where the damage will be passed on to their children.[iii] Our country is as deeply responsible: our policies and hunger for drugs have contributed to the destabilization of the countries these people are trying to escape, and our actions at the border are nothing short of criminal, immoral and racist to the core. The fact that these children are brown – like Jesus – has everything to do with this policy.

In my understanding, the broad strokes of a white Christian’s journey when it comes to issues of race include coming to critical awareness of the realities of racism and white supremacy; taking responsibility for the realities racism and white supremacy create, in us and through us; and working for the transformation of those realities: in our society, in our churches and in us. I do not know how we can call ourselves Christians if we are not putting our money and voices and bodies to this crisis.

My commitment is to care for all, and especially the least of these. I must hold both rage and love in my hands every day in order to live into that commitment. As I hear the names of the towns of my South Texas childhood, I can see them afresh as places of criminal victimization and collusion, as well as resistant sanctuary and hope. We face that choice, all of us followers of a refugee savior. Will we be chaplains of the empire, or chaplains of the resistance?

Tammerie Day is associate director of Clinical Pastoral Education at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a longtime educator and activist with white communities working toward racial justice. She also is a member of the Alliance Board of Directors.


[i] Accessed August 3, 2018: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/m...
[ii] Accessed August 3, 2018: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/0...
[iii] Nadine Burke Harris, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2018).

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