We've always taken kids from their families - it's time to repent
I know. It's hard to face our own dark history. But face it we must, or it will continue to rear its bitter ugly head - over and over again.
And that's exactly what is happening right now in the United States.
God places the lonely IN families. He is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows (Ps 68:5,6).
But the truth is, we Christians have too often done the exact opposite. We have a dark history - a sordid, sinful pattern even - of taking children OUT of their families.
If we don't learn from the past we will be doomed to repeat her mistakes. So, let's take an unflinching look and then decide to turn away from this evil practice.
America's prosperity was built on the backs of separated families - the families of slaves.
In 1849, Henry Bibb, a former slave, wrote about the practice of splitting up enslaved families:
"A mother unleashed a piercing scream as her baby was ripped from her arms during a slave auction. Even as a lash cut her back, she refused to put her baby down...but the child was torn from the arms of its mother amid the most heart-rending shrieks from the mother and child on the one hand, and the bitter oaths and cruel lashes from the tyrants on the other.”
The mother was sold to the highest bidder.
During this shameful period in the United States, enslaved mothers and fathers throughout the land, lived with the constant fear that they or their children might be sold away.
Native American children
For a hundred years, from 1880 through to almost 1980, Canada and the United States removed hundreds of thousands of native children from their families.
It was a cultural genocide.
The slogan, "Kill the Indian to save the man" was used to justify the policy of taking up to 30% of native children from their families and forcing them into government and church-run residential schools.
Children were made to cut their hair and give up their traditional clothing. They were punished for speaking their own languages and taught that their cultures were inferior. Many of these children were beaten, raped or tortured. Thousands died.
Since then, Canada has taken fragile steps towards truth and reconciliation. In the United States, nothing has been done.
The Stolen Generation
Between 1910 and 1970, the Australian government decided to separate indigenous children from their families under the policy of Assimilation. Up to a third of indigenous Australian children were ripped from their parents.
These children are now known as the Stolen Generation.
Some kids were adopted by white families, and others were placed in institutions. These children were taught to reject their heritage, and forced to adopt white culture. Their names were often changed, and they were forbidden to speak their traditional languages. Abuse and neglect were widespread.
You might be surprised that I would include this, but 8 million children across the world today live in orphanages - mostly established by Christian missionaries and churches.
Tragically, the vast majority of those children are not orphans and almost all of them have extended family.
Children are placed in orphanages because their families are too poor to care for them, not because they have no family. Sadly - their families feel they have no choice. The issue is poverty - not orphanhood.
Dozens of research studies have shown all kinds of medical and psychological abnormalities arising from institutionalization. Yet we continue to use our resources and power to separate children from their families and raise them in institutions - supposedly for their own good.
And so we come to today. Outrage sweeps the world as we see images of children at the southern border of the United States in cages and hear their cries.
So far, more than 2000 children have been separated from their parents over the last monthalone, due to a "zero-tolerance" crackdown on illegal immigration.
As usual there are justifications that this is for their own good, that their parents broke the law, etc. etc.
But we already know, through decades of research into Attachment Theory, that these separations can cause serious psychological trauma to the children taken. The head of the American Academy of Pediatrics went so far as to call the policy "child abuse" and against "everything we stand for as paediatricians".
In each of the historical cases above, we look back and recognize that what we did was wrong - barbaric even. Yet we keep doing the same thing over and over again.
God's beautiful plan for the care of children has always been the family.
Yet, we have strayed from that vision.
It is time to turn away from this pattern.
It is time to repent.
As Christians, let's do all we can to strengthen the family and the community, rather than weaken them by separating children from the God-given support network they so desperately need.
The practice of lament and repentance is an important first step. But it is only the start. We need to turn TOWARDS something. There are faithful Christians working on the forefront of strengthening and supporting children to remain in their families, all over the world.
Support them. Learn from them. Follow their lead. I can personally recommend Step Ahead in Thailand and Heartline Ministries in Haiti. And of course the movement I lead, Alongsiders, which has now spread to 16 countries. Let us know who else is out there in the comments...