The Episcopal Church of the Central Gulf Coast
June 20, 2018

Views from the Bishop's Chair
by the Rt. Rev. Russell Kendrick,
Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast
I am writing this reflection because I am compelled to do so by today’s Gospel reading from our Daily Office Lectionary, Matthew 18:1-9. Many of you know of my custom to invite a child to carry my crozier and walk with me in the procession at the end of the worship service. Part of my explanation to the congregation for doing so is that it is a way I can hold fast to the Biblical promise and hope, “And a little child will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6

Last Sunday I was at St. John’s the Baptizer, Wewahitchka, Florida. While their numbers are small, the spirit on Sunday morning is very much alive. On the front row sat a single mother with her two children, a toddler about the “tender age” of 18 months, and a young boy of 5 years old. His name is Elliot.  

During the Exchange of the Peace, I knelt down to Elliott and asked him to help me. He recoiled into his mom’s arms. At best, he was reluctant. I was a stranger and he was not sure if I was a friend or an enemy. Still, he listened to me. I explained briefly what I wanted him to do. It was only after his mother encouraged him to do so, that he hesitantly nodded yes.

At the time of the dismissal hymn, I caught his attention and motioned for him to join me. He got a bit confused and wandered to the opposite side of the nave, where his grandfather was standing. While the music played on, I finally persuaded him to stand near me, about arm’s length. He was still not sure. I offered him the staff. At first he refused to hold it. So, I held it high, and he held it low. Together we began to walk.  

We made it to the door of the church, and at my request, he turned to face the congregation. I thought he would bolt for his mother’s arms, but he suddenly looked up to me with a big smile and said, “I got it.” He stood there, holding the crozier with great delight and pride. When the music ended, and I had dismissed the people, I knelt down to thank him. He gave me a slight hug. Please forgive my pride, but if only for a minute, I felt as if I had helped this little child know that the universe is friendly, and some strangers can be trusted.   
Photo credit: John Moore/Getty Images. Border Patrol Agents Detain Migrants Near US-Mexico Border
Later, I drove home, opened up my iPad to read the news, and found this photo staring back at me. And I wept. At the very same time I was trying my best to teach a child about the way of love, another child in this world was being taught a different way.  

In my ordained ministry I have rarely spoken out on political issues. I have hesitated not because I think the Gospel is not political. I have done so because I am mindful of the slippery slope into partisanship, pride and prejudice. I am very aware that people of deep faith can disagree on issues and the means by which we solve the challenges which we face. Indeed it is a part of our Anglican ethos that I treasure deeply. We are a messy church. 

With that said, I am compelled to be led by a little child. Not the one who carried my crozier, but the one I met in the photo. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” As far as I can tell from my reading of the Bible, the way of Jesus is the way of love. Love is the truth He preached to us; love is the life He gave for us. If we declare that His way, truth and life is the way to God, then His way is meant to be our way. 

Thus, I must stand with this child and join the chorus of voices that are crying out in condemnation of the current governmental policy of separating children from their parents at our southern border. This policy is traumatic, cruel, and unjust. Admittedly, the legal issues surrounding immigration are complicated and complex. However, there must be a better way to legislate immigration practices in our country and to find merciful ways to treat all immigrants. 

I can find nothing about the policy of separating children from their parents that is consistent with the way of Jesus. It is incompatible with the promises I make at every baptism. I find no Biblical support for such actions. In truth, scriptural evidence overwhelmingly points to a contrary way of living in community. [ Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Matthew 25:25-36 ; Luke 10:29-37]  

Then there is this story:
“People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

May we be about teaching and living the way of Jesus in this world, especially when it comes to the little children. After all, they may very well be the ones who lead us to God.  +Russell
Postscript: The Episcopal Public Policy Network has put together resources for study, prayer and action. Their materials including a statement from the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, can be found at: https://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/app/document/28873301?0.
Here is a brief video that explains the immigration system: https://vimeo.com/266357612.
To easily contact your congressional delegation, use this link:
The Rt. Rev. J. Russell Kendrick, Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

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