16 June 2018  |  Late Sabbath afternoon, leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination on both coasts released public statements condemning recent United States government actions taking children from parents who arrive at the nation’s border entry points without visas and seeking asylum under international human rights law. Almost all other Christian denominations have taken similar stands in recent days after Attorney General Jefferson Sessions used the Bible to defend the policy.

An appeal from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America entitled “Suffer the Little Children,” began with a quote from Luke 18:16-17: “As Jesus was preaching in Israel, parents started to bring their young infants for Him to bless. The disciples became frustrated with this and started to push the parents away. Jesus responded with words that ring true today: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” (KJV)

The statement said, in full: “Recent events in the United States have brought the news of young children being separated from their parents as they cross our borders. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America joins other faith-based groups in expressing concern over these actions, and it is deeply worried when biblical texts are used by those in power to affirm them. We strongly encourage all political parties to quickly seek a joint resolution that will not only bring these separated families back together, but also keep this from ever happening again.

“We affirm the right of our government to protect its borders and enforce the law; but it is a moral obligation of this country to protect all who cross our borders. Romans 13:10 guides us with these words: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

“Please join us in praying for the families that are currently separated and fearful for those they love. May they soon find peace and joy in each other’s arms.”

Pastor Ricardo B. Graham, president of the denomination’s Pacific Union Conference in which the largest number of child detentions are taking place, issued a statement entitled more bluntly, “Stop Child Detentions.”

The statement also began with a Bible quote: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” said Jesus, “for of such is the kingdom of God.” It continued, “But apparently, the little children are no longer welcome in the United States.”

The rest of the full statement: “Seventh-day Adventists regard the nurture and protection of children as a sacred trust. All Americans, and particularly people of faith, must raise their voices to condemn the demonization of these immigrant families as criminals. Many are fleeing violence and lawfully seeking refugee status. Jesus Christ declared that the way we treat those we regard as ‘the least of these’ is how we treat the Christ. In their treatment of immigrant and refugee families our leaders are demonizing Jesus himself! Many proclaim America to be a Christian nation. Yet those who reject the fundamental teaching of Jesus to give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the stranger mock God and lose any right to claim the name of Christ.”

“A growing number of Christian and religious leaders are speaking out about the cruelty being inflicted on children of immigrants and refugees by the new ‘zero tolerance’ policy of the Department of Justice. Others have spoken out about the abuse of scripture to justify such cruelty. Indeed, Romans 13 has not only been used in the past to encourage compliance with the fugitive slave law, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their bondage, but Romans 13 was also used to obtain the compliance of the Christian church in Europe during World War II. God has ordained our leaders and our government, the flawed logic holds, and our duty is to obey and to comply. The abuse of scripture to justify inflicting harm on children is truly a heinous sin.”

“Seventh-day Adventists hold dear the value of religious liberty, but we are compelled to stand up and speak loud and clear when religion is used to harm others. Our role as believers and as citizens is to hold our nation’s leadership accountable to a high moral and ethical standard in the interpretation of our laws.”

“Every believer should condemn the abuse of the law to support an official policy of child detention and abuse. The same biblical passage that has been abused to justify this policy declares that “love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” The proper function of law is to preserve the welfare of society, its peace, and the rights of its people. To use the law as a means of oppression, as the Department of Justice is doing, is to degrade respect for the law itself, to undermine the foundations of our democracy, and to bring shame upon our entire nation.”

“America is a nation of immigrants and has always been a compassionate nation. Whether measured by charitable giving in support of disaster relief, development, or foreign aid by our government, Americans have surpassed other nations in showing mercy and compassion to those suffering famine, hunger, and other deprivations. The United States has championed democracy, human rights, and civil and religious freedom around the world.”

“But in this matter we are champions no more. A policy that seeks to accomplish a social and political goal by tearing apart families and harming children is a stain on our national character that will be difficult to erase. Thus, we are compelled to rise up and seek to relieve the suffering of these immigrant children who are languishing in detention centers, torn from their mothers’ arms.”

“Our thoughts and prayers must turn into actions and deeds. All those who still cherish the values America stands for must demand action from Congress to end this policy.  We ask all of you to write or call your congressional representatives, speak out in your own personal and community settings against injustice, use your voice on social media, and use every right you have as a citizen to challenge and change the policies that inhumanly, carelessly, and needlessly take children away from their parents.”

The Pacific Union Conference statement includes a number of references from statements in the past by the denomination’s General Conference supporting the position expressed:

“Seventh-day Adventists place a high value on children. In the light of the Bible they are seen as precious gifts from God entrusted to the care of parents, family, community of faith and society-at-large. Children possess enormous potential for making positive contributions to the Church and to society. Attention to their care, protection and development is extremely important. The Seventh-day Adventist Church reaffirms and extends its longstanding efforts to nurture and safeguard children. … The Church regards the nurture and protection of children as a sacred trust.”  (Statement voted by the General Conference Executive Committee on June 23, 2010, in Atlanta, Georgia.)

“Seventh-day Adventists affirm the dignity and worth of each human being and decry all forms of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and family violence…. We accept our responsibility to… listen and care for those suffering from abuse and family violence, to highlight the injustices, and to speak out in defense of victims.”  (Statement voted by the General Conference Administrative Committee and was released at the General Conference session in Utrecht, the Netherlands, June 29-July 8, 1995.)

“The health and prosperity of society is directly related to the well-being of its constituent parts—the family unit. Today, as probably never before, the family is in trouble. … The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in this time of family crisis, encourages every family member to strengthen his or her spiritual dimension and family relationship through mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility.” (Statement released by General Conference president Neal C. Wilson after consultation with the 16 world vice presidents on June 27, 1985, at the General Conference session in New Orleans, Louisiana.)

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