Information is swirling around the community since the news broke that Second Baptist Church signed a lease and contract with VisionQuest to house 90 migrant boys on their property. Community Leaders and Elected Officials have publicly opposed this moving forward, to include Commissioner Calvert, CW Sullivan, Renee' Watson (Bexar County), the Mayor and many others within our community.
The community has an overall consensus: NO. The community has questions, why is your community building debt resort to migrant kids? Furthermore how did your business decisions get you into this financial matter to the point you believe you can now manage 90 youth boys? A budget can be managed, if by the right person. How do you manage 90 kids when you cannot manage a budget? These are legitimate questions any business would consider before going forward. When you cannot afford something you don't buy it. When a business asset is not turning profit (because remember- churches have bills too) you halt from venturing down that road. At what point did the congregation NOT vote on how to save the church's finances to get to the point of selling beds to kids through bloody VisionQuest whose history of abuse towards children is rampid. What religious organization ties themselves to an organization like VisionQuest? Is Second Baptist literally selling their souls for money? VisionQuest has been shut down in numerous cities for their unethical practices and care taking of children. Pastor Jamerson should pray on this more and also he should understand what the boys will feel if they are housed at Second Baptist.
If you were a child, of 90, would you want to grow up at Second Baptist on the second floor? Where do I play? At the Carver Library? The windows the boys would look out of look over the Carver Library where kids play on the playground all day. The other windows you see a parking lot full of cars. Will all 90 boys have to watch these other children play freely while they sit on a bunk? If you showed up to a bowling alley with 90 people how many lanes would you book? Probably all of them, but Second Baptist is boasting their amenities of bowling alleys and basketball courts that will allow the kids to play. Well, They have 2-3 small bowling lanes in a room capacity of maybe 40 and they have a gym that does not have spectator seating for the teams that currently play their now- standing room only. We have a space issue before anything else.
The vote goes to city council, where they must approve the re-zoning of Second Baptist Church for this lease with VisionQuest to move forward.
Everyday we support housing migrant children, where some have been separated from families, is a day longer we support the Trump admin's agenda of taking other people's children. Many of these youth may be genuinely homeless and need care which we commend Second Baptist on. But we urge City Council to vote against re-zoning of Second Baptist Church and that this initiative be halted.
SEE the letter below written to Pastor Jamerson at Second Baptist Church from Rev. Dr. Helen Boursier:
October 2, 2019
An open letter to:
Rev. Robert Jemerson and the congregation of
Second Baptist Church
San Antonio, Texas
Dear Rev. Jemerson and Members of Second Baptist Church:
I have been a volunteer chaplain with refugees seeking asylum in diverse capacities, both inside and outside of family detention, since 2014, and I have written two books which share their witness in conversation and the systemic injustice they have received through current immigration policies and practices. I know the entangled injustice which is being perpetrated at the southern border, and I have documented countless migrant testimonies of gross human rights violations while in U.S. custody. I implore you to reconsider your decision with the contract you signed with VisionQuest for yet another for-profit detention center for unaccompanied migrants who are detained in U.S. custody at taxpayer expense.
Second Baptist Church crossed the line from the Lord calling God’s people to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8) to aligning with injustice. Second Baptist Church now becomes enmeshed in the gross wrongs which are being done against children who are caught up in a web of deceit, injustice, and violations of existing U.S. immigration and international laws and treaties (i.e, Flores Settlement Agreement and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Convention and Protocol). One more for-profit detention facility harms that many more children. Your comment to the San Antonio Express-News, “We will hold them to the highest standard,” said the Rev. Robert Jemerson, Second Baptist’s pastor. “I think that they’re doing good. Where else would the children go? If they’re coming across the border unaccompanied, they’re liable to be exploited,” might sound laudable and possibly that your hearts reflect the love of God who calls the faithful to welcome the stranger (Lev. 19:34; Lev. 24:22; Heb. 13:2) and the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:35-40). However, VisionQuest is a known perpetrator of injustice and human rights violations against minor children detained in its custody, with a bad track record spanning from 1979 to 2017 when Pennsylvania officials shut down its facility in Philadelphia [see, e.g., Michael Daly, VisionQuest, For-Profit Firm Tapped to House Migrant Kids in Philadelphia, Has Sordid History,” Daily Beast, July 1, 2019
They are not doing a “good thing.”
Second Baptist Church crossed the line from justice to injustice when the congregation overwhelmingly voted to accept the contract to become a for-profit detention center for children. Children. No child should ever be locked up. With the signature on the contract, the congregation joined the inequity of the ancient people whom God sent the prophets to declare again and again the wrongs done by the people of God at the expense of the widow, the fatherless, the alien, and the poor (Zech. 7:9-10). You also join the religious leaders of Jesus’ day when Jesus cleared the temple and declared, “Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:15-19).
The poisonous for-profit mindset already is evident in the congregation’s rationale for signing the contract as it overwhelming voted to approve a fast-track way to pay off its debt from building a fancy recreation facility plus turn a tidy profit at the expense of these children. If you follow through with this contract, you will become part of, and culpable to the systemic evil and gross injustice that the Trump Administration is perpetrating at our southern border. Your signature of approval to a for-profit contract means you become directly culpable to the human rights violations against refugees which have been/are being perpetrated by the current administration. Just as Hitler had his minions during the Holocaust, you will be a minion of the Trump administration if you continue forward with your plan to profit off these vulnerable children. Your hands will not be clean.
God heard the cry of the Israelites during their time of bondage and declared, “'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:6). The same God Almighty will rise up with a cry of outrage of faithful people who understand, agree, respect, and follow that love of God necessarily means love of all neighbors (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; Mark 12:31). Locked up and “detained” is not welcome—no matter how you pretty it up with a fancy recreation facility with an “eight-lane bowling alley, a stage and a large gym that can be used for basketball, volleyball and a skating rink.” Again, I reiterate that Second Baptist Church crossed the line from hospitality and love of God to pure profit to pay off its mortgage and stash some extra cash in the bank.
There is a myriad of phenomenal faith-based opportunities to work for compassion, justice, love, and mercy with refugee families and children who seeking asylum in the U.S. from the violence and certain detain in their homelands. Second Baptist Church members could volunteer along the Interfaith Welcome Coalition which has hosted more than 22,000 refugees overnight in their church since the end of March. And the list goes on. There are so many ways to make a tangible difference for migrant families and children in greater San Antonio. The last thing needed is another for-profit detention center so Second Baptist Church can pay off its mortgage. Instead of trading the very soul of your congregation by profiting at the expense of these vulnerable children, I encourage you to join the various nonprofit, government, and faith-based organizations throughout the city that are already doing wonderful work. Admission is free! No charge.
The Reverend Doctor Helen T. Boursier, Ph.D.
Author of Desperately Seeking Asylum: Testimonies of Trauma, Courage, and Love (Rowman & Littlefield, December 2019); and The Ethics of Hospitality: An Interfaith Response to U.S. Immigration Policies (Lexington Books, February 2019).
Rev. Dr. Helen Boursier, Ph.D.
Author, Educator, Advocate, Ordained Minister