As I write these words, President Trump is politicizing the fall reopening of schools for our children. I cannot imagine a more difficult set of decisions our public officials are having to make than when and how to reopen our schools safely, for the safety of our children and teachers and school employees. It is an agonizing and complex problem to try to solve.
But the president of the United States is pressuring a full reopening of schools and pushing the Centers for Disease Control to relax its school reopening guidelines, calling them too “tough and expensive.” He is making it a political issue, not a public health issue, saying Democrats want to delay school openings for political reasons.
The story of Jepthah and his daughter comes to mind. Read it in Judges chapter 11. It is one of the most horrifying stories in the Bible, one of the texts Professor Phyllis Trible calls “texts of terror.” The people of Gilead are living in fear of the Ammonites. Jepthah, who has gained a reputation as a fierce warrior, is approached by the leaders of Gilead. They promise that if he will defeat the Ammonites they will make him permanent head and general of their people.
Jepthah accepts the offer and before the battle makes this vow to God: If you give me the victory over the Ammonites I will thank you by sacrificing as a burnt offering whoever first comes out of my house to greet me when I return home. He won the victory and returned home giddy with his military success. When he got to his house, the first one out the door of his house was his only child, his beloved daughter, who ran dancing to him with the sound of timbrels.
When Jepthah saw her, he was overcome with dismay and grief, but he had made a vow and could not break it. So Jepthah’s daughter was offered up as a sacrifice to his God. A vow is a vow is a vow.
The story makes us shudder with revulsion. Yet how many children have been sacrificed through the centuries on the altar of our pride and lust for power?
“Our children are being sacrificed on the altar of political power.”
The British poet Wilfred Owen was one of the most powerful anti-war poets of World War I. In one poem he placed the story of Abraham and Isaac in the context of that war where more than 20 million were killed and another 20 million were grievously wounded. (This poem was put powerfully to music in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.) In the poem, at the decisive moment when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering to God, God (as in the Genesis text) provides a ram in the thicket for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son. But in Owen’s poem, Abraham refused and “slew his son and half the seed of Europe, one by one.”
We have watched our president separate immigrant children from their families, 5,000 to 6,000 of them, and still counting, placed in cages and horrifying holding areas in order for him to keep his campaign promise to halt the immigration of brown refugees and immigrants into our country. The family separation program has used infants and children as a “deterrence” to any family fleeing to our nation.
Now Secretary of Education DeVos and the president are pushing for a full reopening of our schools in the next months, even threatening the withdrawal of federal funds if we do not do so. The Education Department has offered no plan for how this can be done safely, and the president is pushing the CDC to alter its guidelines. Our children are being sacrificed on the altar of political power.
Jesus once warned in his tender and fierce love for children that if anyone put a stumbling block before “one of the little ones,” it would be better for them if a great millstone were fastened around their own necks and they were “drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). We should haul millstones to the White House and the offices of public officials around our nation and leave them there as a warning: We will not let our children’s lives be sacrificed for anyone’s political ambition.