As the nation’s second largest state by geography (only Alaska is larger) and second largest by population (thanks to California), Texas is all about big. Belt buckles are huge. The sky goes on forever. Longhorns sport, well, long horns.
Also big in Texas: The GOP and GOD. Republicans control all statewide offices, both houses in the state legislature, and make up most of the state’s congressional delegation. Religion is also a pretty big deal in the Lone Star State. Several of America’s biggest megachurches are in Texas, and the city of Lubbock has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the US.
But what is even bigger in Texas? Hypocrisy.
How else to explain the heartbreakingly heartless response to the current humanitarian crisis / tiny illegal immigrant infestation (depending on your point of view)?
About 52,000 minors have crossed our country’s southern border since October 2013, and 75% of them are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (countries where gangs, drug crimes and murder make life perilous for everyone, including young children). The kids arriving in Texas have risked everything and survived an extremely dangerous journey. Only unimaginable violence and desperation at home could drive reasonable people to send their children on such a trip.
It’s no surprise that these families seek mercy and compassion at the border. After all, when children arrive at the front door of Texas, they arrive in a very religious state in our most religious region (the Evangelical Protestant Bible Belt), which is governed overwhelmingly by our most religious political party (89% of Republicans identify as religious; 76% as Christian).
And yet, when these tired, poor, huddled masses of children arrived on the Texas doorstep, how did a few Republican leaders respond?
Republican Congressman Raul Labrador: “Deport these families, these children…I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds difficult.”
Yes, it sure does. We agree on that.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham: “We have to send them back, because if you don’t you’re going to incentivize people throughout that part of the world to keep sending their children here.”
Really, Senator? Do you seriously believe it’s so desirable for parents to send their children on life-threatening journeys and maybe never see them again, just because US citizenship sounds so peachy? Have you ever met an actual parent? And would you honestly send the children back into the hell from which they barely escaped?
Republican Representative Tom Cole: “We are essentially incentivizing the flow of this population by not returning the unaccompanied juveniles to their countries of origins quickly.” He then went on to complain that some children are being sent from the overcrowded Texas facilities to temporary shelters in his home state of Oklahoma (which is also in the Bible Belt; 88% of Oklahomans call themselves religious – 82% are Christian).
Gosh, Congressman, it’s a shame that anyone in Oklahoma might be inconvenienced just so a few thousand kids don’t have to sleep on a concrete floor, crammed in overcrowded cells while they await immigration hearings.
In such a “Christian” land, all of this begs the obvious question and calls to mind a popular bumper sticker: “What Would Jesus Do?”
I don’t claim to know. But I do know this: if God did decide to test us – to challenge the faith of the Bible Belt, to see how Christians practice the “love your neighbor like yourself” (Mark 12:31) command when the chips are down, He couldn’t have devised a more straightforward exam.
Into the territory of His most ardent followers, He delivered thousands of innocent, frightened, hungry, needy children. They are alone in a strange land where they don’t speak the language, have no resources, and in some cases have no family. We are a prosperous nation with plenty of land and resources, despite many competing budget obligations. And what’s more important than helping “the least of these, my brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:40)?
So…what will be the biggest, most Texas-like outcome from this story?
It may take some Texas-sized ideas to find solutions for these children, to ensure the best outcome for them. Indeed, we may have to write some Texas-sized checks in order to make that happen. Will our religious nation step up to that plate? Do American Christians remember anything Jesus said about giving?*
Or will hypocrisy remain the biggest thing in Texas?
*Hint: it’s in Luke 3:11 “He answers and said to them, He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise.”