Category Archives: Children

If You’ll Turn A Child Back Into the Night, You Can’t Call Yourself A Christian

The photograph below, with credit to the Dallas Morning News in an opinion piece, depicts an 8 year-old child looking with some combination of angst and wonder at a United States Border patrolman as he is processed near McAllen, Texas.

10440693_10152303389573800_8537799503845392452_n

 

I lack a ready solution to what is a legitimate growing concern regarding the appropriate legal status of (and thus the fate of) undocumented children who enter the United States unaccompanied and often at the behest of parents and other family members who have already made the journey to the United States, either legally or illegally.

I also lack, increasingly, a sincere religious identity other than Deism, although I still cling to Catholicism in some element of practice. But if agreements can be reached on basic definitions, I’ll offer this quick and blunt syllogism:

1. “Christians” are not just followers but indeed worshippers of the figure generally accepted to have been the itinerant rabbi Jesus, originally from the Roman province of Judea.

2. “Worship” can be commonly understood to mean to aspire to be like, to imitate and struggle to emulate; at bottom to do what the worshipped object would do as much as humanly possible.

3. Thousands of children every year are attempting the remarkably cruel, emotionally crippling and physically dangerous journey into the United States from Mexico and points south. They suffer all manner of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, fear, darkness, uncertainty, and still untold amounts of sexual exploitation and abuse. In most cases they have family already in the U.S. who have arranged for their transport in order for reunification. In some cases the border crossing is only one point on a trail of misery and hardship. Many children must travel thousands of miles beyond the border to rejoin loved ones, and that journey within the U.S. can be no less vicious and exploitive.

4. Christianity within differing sects is by far the most popular American religion, with millions claiming America to be a “Christian nation.”

5. Many Americans, in some cases regardless of political affiliation and with some legitimate practical concerns, would see these children turned away from sanctuary in the world’s richest nation. While perhaps not personally lacking compassion, some would nevertheless deny these children even processing in temporary detention centers.

6. These people cannot call themselves Christians with any shred of sincerity or intellectual honesty.

And what gives me the right to make this claim? Nothing, really. But I’ve yet to see a single interpretation with an iota of coherency that would allow the plain teachings of Jesus- as we know them in modern translations from the Gospels- to allow for the shunning of these children in need (or those accompanying them, for that matter, but especially them).

I’m aware that tragic interpretations of Christianity have for centuries encouraged and embraced horrors from slavery to genocide. But I’ve never seen anything Jesus himself purportedly uttered that could ever be used to justify anything but welcoming these children -pawns in a miserable game of limited and lopsidedly distributed resources- with open arms. No matter if it’s inconvenient, impractical, unwise, unfair even, or anything else.

It’s often irritating, and indeed sometimes far worse that that. Like millions before me, I’ve struggled with the clear demands of this same revolutionary, inscrutable, polarizing figure my entire sentient life. Although not Jesus himself, a Biblical author named James is credited with writing that religion undefiled before God is this: To attend to widows and orphans in their distress, and to remain unstained from the world.

I’ve failed miserably at the second part of this command. My only hope, for whatever shadow of a Christian I may still be or eventually die as, is not to fail at the first.

Regardless of the practical considerations.

Regardless of the geopolitical implications.

Regardless of the foolishness, recklessness, or even downright deception of any adult involved.

If you will turn a child back into the night, you cannot call yourself a Christian.

 

 

For the Love of God: “The Home” In Western Ireland

Memorial_cross_in_Canna's_Church_of_Scotland_graveyard_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1426006I am a Catholic. I have close Catholic friends who very much believe that abortion is “the ultimate child abuse.” If that’s to be accepted, then those same adherents must acknowledge that the cultural ostracizing of unwed mothers in heavily Catholic countries has, over time, led to similarly abusive consequences.

Regardless of how pregnancies occurred, whether through (what is called) sin, rape, or something else, the fact was (and still is in some) heavily Catholic environments that pregnancy out of wedlock was a cultural crime met with very little mercy. The result was women forced to leave their families, their support structures, and sometimes their children. A second parting, then, was often caused by death, either of the mothers or the children. This was due in large part to sub-standard care brought on by everything from a simple lack of resources to a general and punitive sense that everyone in the situation was getting what they deserved.

The discovery of the bodies of 800 children near a former home for unwed mothers in western Ireland is a reminder of what can happen when allegedly Christian religious dogma trumps the spirit behind it.

Catholicism and Christianity in general are hardly the only organized religions that have taken such an unforgiving stand to the inevitability of pregnancies out of wedlock. But a religion so uncompromising in its criticism of ending unborn life must also confront its historical unwillingness to tolerate situations where life has arisen in unsanctioned settings.

The victims of this, ultimately and inevitably, are the youngest and weakest. This is a mockery of everything Christ stood for. It has to be, or He stood for nothing.

And I don’t believe that.

 

Honored Beyond Words: Being a Part of “Lived Through This”

LTTIt has to have been 8 years or more since I first heard of the Voices and Faces Project, although it seems like much longer. Its mission is so beautifully simple that it tends to transcend its also beautifully simple name: Voices and Faces.

But that’s the point.

The best prosecutors, investigators and advocates I ever worked with in this business knew that the word “case,” and the dozens of other words we use to categorize, triage, sanitize and process human misery as a result of crime, was a reprehensible substitute for the person we came to know at the center of it.

Yes, it was a case, and it had to be dealt with as such. But the thing that haunted us wasn’t the case. It was the she or he, the unique, mysterious, and sometimes broken, sometimes remarkably unbowed, person before us. To the extent we were responsible to her or him- at least for what we could control in the almost comically blunt and fractured, imperfect system we worked in- we struggled to keep that person’s face foremost in our minds. We struggled to hear her or his voice as we strategized, made decisions, and dealt out “justice” as we’d been conditioned to accept and define it.

But even that voice- the one we heard- was truncated. I was good at what I did, and I listened well. But what I needed to hear professionally, and what I could spare the time and emotional energy for, was always far less than what could have been fully related to me. When I parted ways with a survivor, whether she was 5 or 75, I often wondered what I’d missed, and was missing then and forever. But it wasn’t something I could dwell on. There were more “cases” coming in. Pretty much every day.

The pinnacle of what I did wasn’t winning those cases (and yes, I accept how self-serving that sounds, having lost my share). Regardless, the pinnacle was responding to the voices and acknowledging the faces in a way that gave them- and not us- the measure of dignity and recognition they deserved.

That is the day to day challenge that simply must be met in the Anglo-American criminal justice response to sexual violence, or all else is lost, and our critics are right to say we serve no one but ourselves.

But even at our best, we could only see so much, and absorb so much. There was- and always will be- an ocean of human experience going woefully unnoticed by those of us tasked with responding professionally to the harm done. We’re simply not equipped to know it all, whether because it’s not legally relevant, not immediately discernible, or not emotionally digestible given the spectrum we work on.

And the saddest fact, of course, is that the incalculable amount of suffering, resilience, inspiration and courage that results from sexual violence in our world could be at any time multiplied exponentially from what I missed, and that all of us in the entire system miss. This is because we only see what enters the system we created in the first place. The vast, vast majority of sexual violence that occurs the world over, day in and day out, is never revealed to any sort of system of authority or adjudication. It simply goes unmet, unaided, unanswered. Unheard.

Voices and Faces changes that, and with no more than the courage of the survivors and the ability to memorialize their accounts. Of course, the project stands apart from the criminal justice response and well it should. I simply came across it as a practitioner with no other perspective.

Except for one. I am a victim, myself of child sexual abuse, a fact known now to most who know me in any capacity, but unknown to most during my tenure as a special victims prosecutor. A few years ago, the author of “Lived Through This,” herself a survivor of a brutal home invasion rape and a dear friend, approached me about being a part of the compilation she envisioned. She knew my story. She wanted to tell it for me. The proudest thing I’ve ever done is to allow her to do so.

Thank you, Anne, for doing it so very beautifully.

For Rebirth in April: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Many thanks to the Huffington Post Impact section for including me in an important series of testimonials and blog posts on sexual violence as we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

One of the best ways you can discover how to make a difference (this month and beyond) is to visit www.startbybelieving.org. There are far more survivors of sexual violence than you’re aware of- the same is true for all of us. You are potential responder, as we all are. Please- respond gently.