This was a really hard post to write. I want to express the fiercest disapproval, disappointment, and grief at a child being taken from her family, and I will. But I also want to think about how to respond when something like this happens–not from a “theology of suffering” sense, but from a Christian worldview sense, because I need to be asking myself, “How does the Bible clarify this situation, this stand-off, between a family and the courts?”
So I’ll do a little of both. I’ll give my internal reaction to the Page family’s situation, referring back to quotes from an original court document I excerpted in part 1. (Page references to the document will be given in parentheses, like so: (#).) Then I’ll walk myself through what an external reaction ought to look like as it is shaped and even, perhaps, bounded by Scripture. For lack of better terms, I’ll call those sections “the reality” and “the response” respectively.
The biggest reason this is so hard to write is that it’s not my situation. I don’t feel the pain as keenly, or the outrage as ferociously, as the Page family does. For me to drop a casual thousand-word post on how the Bible should govern a response would be woefully uninformed of the emotions and details of the Page family’s situation, not to mention insensitive. “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” the Bible says, and “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I intend to weep. And yet, “Set your minds on things that are above” (Col. 3:2a). I intend to do that, too.
So to recap, the court document says the following: Lexi “formed a strong primary bond and attachment with the entire P. family, viewing the parents as her own parents and the P. children as her siblings” (5). The Pages “have provided her with clear and consistent rules, and a loving environment” (8). Lexi “is bonded to the P.s, and has a healthy attachment to them” (8). It’s clear that Lexi has found a family. God placed her with a mom and dad and siblings who all love her as their own flesh and blood.
Then I don’t think that there’s any other way to put it: Lexi was taken from her family. She was torn away and a devastated family was left in her wake.
I’m upset about it. I feel that key decision makers along the way messed up. Lexi’s attorney, whose primary responsibility is for her client’s best interest, “withdrew her objection to Alexandria’s change in placement [thus favoring Lexi’s move from the Pages to Utah]” (10). One “expert” stated that he “believed that with appropriate intervention and support, Alexandria would cope with a transition resiliently, characterizing the possible trauma as a loss, but not the equivalent of the death of a parent” (11). Because, you know, that’s the high standard we want to maintain when we figure out if we should remove a child from the people she calls “mom” and “dad”–as long as the resulting trauma isn’t perceived as equivalent to the death of mom and dad, go ahead, rip her from their arms. The Choctaw nation leadership–to be clear here, I’m not generalizing to the Choctaw community, or the Native American community, but limiting my reaction to Choctaw nation decision makers–“selected the R.s as the planned adoptive placement” (8). And even after Lexi had lived with the Page family for over a year, the Choctaw nation leadership maintained their request for Lexi to move to Utah (10).
For their part, the courts ruled that “the P.s had not demonstrated good cause to depart from the placement preferences and ordering a gradual transition for Alexandria to move from the P.s’ home to the R.s’ home” (12). This despite the fact that another expert directly countered the ridiculous rationalization above, to say that “compared the transition to the death or loss of a parent or family, because ‘she is being taken away from everything that is familiar to her, everything that she’s known to be stability'” (11). So… failure at pretty much every point in that whole system.
Am I upset? Is this wrong? Yes. And yes.
Here the objection might be raised that the courts were constrained by ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) and ruled in the only course permitted by the law, even if as individuals, those presiding would have wanted Lexi to stay with the Pages. I understand that, though I still think there were plenty of ways the court could have ruled in Lexi’s best interests. First, according to the Judicial Council of California’s Dependency Quick Guide, a child’s attorney “has the responsibility to represent ‘the child’s interests,’ specifically to investigate the facts; interview, examine, and cross examine witnesses; and make recommendations to the court regarding the child’s welfare. Counsel must interview children age four and older and communicate the client’s wishes to the court” (H-11). I’m not convinced that Lexi’s interests were known and relayed by her attorney, much less represented to the court.
Moreover, given the conflicting testimony by the experts, I would think that there would be room to conclude that yes, this would in fact be traumatic for Lexi. To reiterate, there was an expert who testified that Lexi’s removal from the Pages could be “compared the transition to the death or loss of a parent or family, because ‘she is being taken away from everything that is familiar to her, everything that she’s known to be stability.'” Granted, I am no legal scholar. It may be that the courts were indeed constrained by ICWA to rule in favor of the tribe’s placement preferences. If so, then the courts have an immediate responsibility to uphold the law.
But let me make this clear: the courts have a “one step removed” responsibility to uphold biblical morality, because the courts uphold the law, and the law has an immediate responsibility to reflect biblical morality. Romans 13 makes this clear: “[T]here is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (13:1b); “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (13:3a); “he is God’s servant for your good” (13:4a). Earthly, human government is a sub-authority of God to uphold its citizens’ good and deter bad conduct. It is safe to assume that Paul assumes a biblical moral definition of “good” and “bad” as “that which reflects God and His statutes” and “that which does not.”
I think there is a tension here. The court decided something which is immoral. Isaiah urges, “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (1:17). Lexi’s cause was not pleaded here. A law was followed, but to the detriment of the well-being of a little girl. How do we react to an unbiblical, immoral decision? How do we respond?
Here’s how Mr. Page responded: “In spite of our pleas to the county, we’ve received word that the county has every intention of taking Lexi today. And we will, with very heavy hearts, comply with the order and we’ll be waiting here for them to come take her” (source–I originally saw the video on Facebook but can’t seem to find it any more). Given that the Pages attend church–my church, actually–I think this comes from a Spirit-led understanding of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” and 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” Given that the historical context of 1 Peter is during Nero’s reign, who was not at all kind to Christians, I think that the “or” in the middle of the passage is a contrasting “or”–as in, some governors that are sent by God do their job properly, or at other times, emperors do as they please in abuse of their earthly supremacy.
There are situations in which we can–and must–disobey the governing authorities. In Exodus 1, the Hebrew midwives disobey Pharaoh’s commands for male infanticide/genocide, and are blessed by God for it. Namely, we must disobey earthly authority if we are instructed to transgress God’s authority. But the Bible does not model disobedience to authorities that are immoral but do not instruct us to do wrong. Such was the case with Nero, who, I’m told, had Christians sewn alive into the carcasses of dead animals and dropped in the middle of sports arenas to be eaten by predators. Did Nero do wrong? Most definitely. It was a horrific abuse of delegated divine authority. Were the Christians instructed to commit evil? No. And in response to authorities that are immoral but do not instruct their citizens to commit evil, Peter does not instruct the Christians to run away, or resist, or disobey. He instructs them to be subject to the emperor, and even to “[h]onor the emperor” (2:17).
The Page family situation, I think, parallels the latter example. The decision makers in this whole process did wrong. It is immoral. They are injuring Lexi and the Page family. They are separating a daughter from her parents, a girl from her family. And yet, the governing authorities have not instructed the Pages to sin. So in the face of all that, I am thankful for Mr. Page’s example: “[W]e will, with very heavy hearts, comply.” Not because the courts were right, or because the Pages want to be separated from Lexi, but because God’s divine authority instructs us to be subject to His delegated human authorities as long as they do not compel us to commit evil. It is a difficult thing, and He means for us to love Him and trust Him in the midst of it.
Meanwhile, God blesses us with a country where citizens have been given means to appeal to the government in a way that honors those authorities. The Pages continue to fight to be united with Lexi, to bring Lexi home, by means of appeals to higher courts. More importantly, though, God fully intends for us to trust Him, appeal to Him, rely on Him. In light of the fierce persecution of the Christians, the close of Peter’s first epistle is all the more poignant: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6-7). The weak, the persecuted, the suffering–God cares for them and encourages them to be humble before Him and to trust Him. We love Lexi and the Pages, and we join them in prayer for the reunification of their family. We pray, too, that they would rest their full weight on the Lord knowing that He cares for them.