By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist Convention official just back from a tour of two Texas facilities for migrant children said July 23 the young people he met there were no different from the kind of kids one might meet in Sunday school.
Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart that asking children at a Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen, Texas, and a Health and Human Services facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio why they would make the dangerous trek to the U.S. border, the answer was immediate: fear of violence inflicted by drug cartels in their home country.
“One child talked about attacks, as it was called, being enacted upon them simply because of where they live,” Moore said.
Contrary to the impression held by some that many of the unaccompanied minors flooding the border are teenage thugs, Moore described seeing “resilient young children and young people who were impressive in their resolve.”
“They could have been kids in any one of our Sunday schools,” Moore said. “They had a great spirit about them, of determination, and also faces that have seen things that no child should ever have to see.”
Asked what advice he would offer President Obama in advance of Friday’s meeting with presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras about the border crisis, Moore replied:
“I would advise him to tell these leaders that this is a moral crisis. This is not simply a political crisis. What is happening in these countries is immoral and as a Christian — as a follower of Jesus Christ — I believe that every person has dignity and every person has worth, and the assault on human dignity going on in the unchecked violence from these drug cartels in these countries is a moral disgrace.”
Moore joined SBC President Ronnie Floyd, Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, and Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, July 22 for a morning tour of the McAllen facility, where they met children as young as 7. After a press conference, the delegation drove 270 miles to San Antonio, where they toured the HHS facility for migrant children ages 12-17 before holding another press conference.
Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, said in a blog that children he met at the border reminded him of his own 7-year-old granddaughter.
“When I heard a 7-year-old boy asked a question about his family and he stated, ‘I have no family,’ my heart melted,” Floyd recalled.
Floyd said he cannot imagine his grandchildren trekking across dangerous terrain to enter a country different from their own, but it is happening every day somewhere in the world.
“When conditions are bad enough, people will do anything,” Floyd said. “Hope will drive even a child to pursue a better future. This is why gospel churches need to step up to this moment and present the powerful hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Floyd recently issued a call to prayer for the border crisis through Baptist Press.
Moore, who moved to his current job last year from teaching and administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a member of the SBC Resolutions Committee in 2011 that drafted a resolution on “Immigration and the Gospel.”
The statement called both for increased border security, followed by “a just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. An amendment to delete the phrase “to implement, with borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country” failed by a vote of 766-723.
During floor debate, one opponent termed the resolution “Southern Baptist amnesty.”