José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was only 16 when he was killed, walking home from a basketball game in October 2012. According to what news reports have pieced together, the unarmed child was shot 10 times, 8 in the back, by a U.S. border patrol agent when he was on his own country’s side of the Mexico-United States border, posed no threat, and had broken no law. Almost three years later, his family still seeks justice.
The death of this child should raise many questions for American Christians. Here are just a few that come to mind:
- Should justice and the sacredness of human life—two important principles written deeply by God into our biblical narratives—be determined by human-created, national boundaries? Or isn’t a life made sacred by the image of God still a life, no matter someone’s age, sex, or country of origin?
- Are we going to be Christians who are consistently pro-life and pro-children even if this means pushing for accountability of human authorities like border officials and other law enforcement officers? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the sacredness of children’s lives after they are born, even as we are before they are born? There was no need for Rodríguez—an innocent child—to die that day. Sadly, even if he had been guilty of throwing rocks as others at the scene seem to have been, it’s difficult to believe that lethal force would have been necessary (and to be very clear, reliable sources say he was not). Why was lethal and excessive force the first resort of law enforcement that day?
- Why do we continue to fail to do our part to give children international protections by making treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child part of U.S. law? Such laws might help us to develop public policies to protect children like Rodríguez, who had several internationally recognized children’s rights ignored that day, not least of which was the right to be protected from violence.
- If Rodríguez were not Mexican, would American Christians, particularly those of us who are white American Christians, care more deeply about what happened to him? Why does it continue to be so difficult for many of us to be whole-world Christians and to live out God’s love for people of all races (Acts 1:8)?
How we respond to such questions is a test not just of our human relationships, but also of our relationship with God our Creator. Perhaps Baptist theologian T.B. Maston said it best: “To the degree that we have progressed in the likeness of our Creator, to that degree we shall be free from class and racial consciousness and discriminations… Human distinctions will be forgotten. How much have we matured as children of God? Our racial attitudes may be a real barometer of our spiritual maturity” (The Bible and Race, 10-11).
Morality should never be determined by arbitrary national lines, but the rightness or wrongness of someone’s actions as measured by God the Creator of life. As believers, we should be concerned about the lives of all, regardless of national boundaries. When that person is a child, we have particularly failed the Jesus who protected children and made them participants in his community (Matthew 21:15-16; Mark 10:13-16).
American Christians of every race should mourn with the family of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez. After all, we also serve a God whose Son was innocently slaughtered (Matthew 27:23-26). And part of our mourning should be crying with words and actions, “Never again.”
Never again should another child (or any other human) be slaughtered in our often ill-conceived efforts to “protect” the U.S. border.
Never again should a law enforcement officer resort to lethal force—such as 10 shots in the body of an unarmed child—against someone who poses no threat to him or her.
Never again should we draw dividing lines about the sacredness of human life with national boundaries, or language, race, or skin tone instead of treating each person created in the image of God with dignity.
Never again should the legal rightness or wrongness of someone’s death be determined by a fence line, instead of whether they are a rights-bearer simply for being human.
And never again should American Christians sit idly by allowing such things to happen whether from apathy and ignorance, or in the name of national loyalty, when our first loyalty should be to the God who loves the whole world (John 3:16).