I can't offer an expert opinion on whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions is correct in his interpretation of Romans 13 in an attempt to justify the Trump administration's immigration policy.
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
In this administration’s world view, it appears that the laws of the state are an outgrowth of the law of God. That means his decision to quote Scripture to support an immigration policy which rips children from their parents and sets up internment camps to hold them is morally right based upon the teaching of the New Testament and the Apostle Paul.
If that is so, then why is it that we hear from a growing constituency of prominent Christian clergy who are outright opposed not only to this policy but to the attorney general quoting the passage? Why do they argue against Session’s interpretation of Scripture?
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The historic context of Romans 13 is in the first century of the common era. Scholars maintain Paul was trying to establish a safe boundary for the existence of the Roman church and manage relations between the new churches and the synagogues inside Rome. Paul, the scholars say, wanted to avoid conflict with the Roman authorities. And, he did not want Christianity to be perceived as in opposition to the mighty Roman empire.
Is that who we are today?
What happened to the democratic ideal that Americans cherish which allows its citizens to protest and disagree with the government?
If we disagree with Sessions, does that mean that all religions are violating the Christian faith?
Does an outcry against incarcerating children and segregating them from their parents mean a profaning of God’s will?
Many of us in other faith traditions look forward to opinions from experts on Christianity about the accuracy of Sessions' interpretative skills.
Judaism, during this same period of late antiquity, had its own fair share of maxims meant to urge Jewish communities under Roman and/or Persian rule to obey the authorities. The religio-legal system of Judaism deferred to the established laws of the state which overruled religious civil law under the authority of the Romans. Judaism’s pronouncement of “The Law of the Land is the Law” was often cited by rabbinic authorities over the centuries to maintain a delicate balance for minority and vulnerable Jewish communities who had to survive under the prevailing governments of the time.
In modern day America, however, we operate by different rules.
We may not agree with the laws of the state, but that does not mean we must simply accept those laws, no matter how unjust they may be. Unlike ancient times, today we have the right to fight for change and to peacefully protest.
I am glad many religious leaders are visiting the internment camps created to hold the children along the country's southern border. The religious community should get involved in advocating for the basic decency and humanitarian values that underlie a democratic society.
Previous administrations have carried out these kinds of policies and invoked Romans 13.
It was used during the American Revolution as propaganda to force the colonists to obey the rule of the British monarchy.
Almost a century later, in 1850, the Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Act which required states to return escaped slaves to their owners. Slavery advocates and their newspapers used Romans 13 as the moral and religious basis for demanding that Americans comply with this new legislation because God wanted us to do so.
Germany's Nazi regime also utilized this passage to fortify their propaganda machine to subdue the German population by connecting the idea of submitting to the authority of the Nazis state to loyalty to God.
In South Africa, the apartheid government used Romans 13 to justify the credibility of that hateful system.
Session’s use of the passage has taught us the dangers of quoting from Scripture to defend harsh decrees.
Is quoting from Scriptures to validate incarcerating large numbers of illegal immigrants as if they were automatically evil people and separating children from their parents a righteous thing to do?
Where is the America which cites Bible verses on how to treat the stranger?
When will political leadership cite the verse: "He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt."
If the government officials are going to quote Scripture, is there anyone in Washington willing to quote this verse, too?