From the perspective of this Christian pastor, it boils down to the challenge of free will. We can choose justice, compassion and reconciliation or injustice, indifference and cruelty and division and conflict. For Christians, Jews and Muslims, our sacred scriptures tell us God demands we choose justice, compassion and reconciliation. I am sure that many other faiths, of which I am less knowledgeable, hold the same values.
It is apparent that people are not just “otherizing,” they are also dehumanizing others. Identifying people as “animals” is a ploy to justify injustice that is as old as recorded history. Throughout history it has been used to dehumanize victims in war and genocide, in mass incarceration, internment, and failure to protect victims trapped in war zones and areas controlled by perpetrators of lawless violence. Being “not like us” becomes “less than us” and leads to making laws and practices that ensure and perpetuate the injustice.
The cruel treatment of children of migrant parents (many of whom are seeking asylum) is a visible sign of a larger problem throughout the U.S., including the Peoria area. While we say every child is sacred and all lives matter equally, this is not the society we have created. The U.S. has one of the highest child poverty rates of all developed nations. Money for healthcare and food for children at or near the poverty level continues to be reduced. While tax credits are given to the affluent to send their children to private schools, money for public schools diminishes. Schools in affluent neighborhoods can afford to create endowments to ensure the continued wealth for their public schools; yet, children in areas like the city of Peoria do not have the educational resources they need to succeed. After a season of graduation speech platitudes – “children are our future” – it is time to face the fact that we are not doing enough to ensure our future well-being as a nation or a community.
With the ever-widening income gap in this country, more and more children are receiving less of the resources they need to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. Children living at or near the poverty level are as imperiled as the Thai boys trapped in that cave. Lives are at stake; the future of our country is at stake.
Empires fall because their leaders failed to prepare for the future. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Amos warned of Israel’s impending defeat and Diaspora citing God’s anger for “trampling on the needy and bringing to ruin the poor of the land.” If we do not begin making all children a top priority, the future of this nation and this community is not bright.
What can one person do? Actually, quite a lot. In a democratic society we elect our representatives to govern for us. Do the leaders we elect, from city councilpersons to our President, legislate to “lift up the lowly” or do their actions, on our behalf, serve the wealthy or their own interests? Our vote for elected representatives are a mirror of our own values and we have the power to choose.
May we look upon the future of the endangered children in our country, our city, as anxiously and hopefully as we did those 12 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand.
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones is pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1420 W. Moss Ave.