To the horror of Christians and resigned shrugs of fatigued non-Christians, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to the Bible. He quoted Scripture to justify ripping families apart by separating immigrant children from their families at the U.S. border.
On June 14 he defended the Justice Department prosecuting everyone who crosses the Mexican border illegally by citing Romans 13. Sessions suggested God ordained the government’s actions.
“Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and . . . protect the weak and lawful,” he said, using the same logic and hermeneutics employed by 19th-century slaveowners.
The comments came shortly after President Trump ceased to enforce policies of the previous God-ordained authorities that extended protections to people fleeing mortal and imminent danger of domestic abuse and gang violence.
The Bible commands caring for the stranger, not making life even more miserable for the desperate and downtrodden. Many church leaders agreed. Mennonite Church USA executive director Glen Guyton signed an interfaith statement condemning the selective use of Scripture to justify tearing children from their parents. Even some Trump allies were appalled, including the evangelist Franklin Graham, who called the policy “disgraceful.” The silence of other Christian leaders was deafening. It meshes with accusations of hypocrisy directed at evangelicals supporting Trump.
Romans 13 has always been the crutch of the powerful. Such selective Scripture usage reveals the flimsiness of the White House’s moral stand. If the Apostle Paul truly meant for us to go along blindly with everything rulers want, he probably wouldn’t have spent so much time writing letters from jail. Tradition has it he was executed by the God-ordained authorities of his own time.
Questions abound: Does God put despotic rulers in power? If both were ordained by God, why does Trump belittle Canada’s Justin Trudeau? Why did Christians resist some health-care stipulations in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act? Did God make Trump reverse course when he ended the separation policy on June 20 and instead began detaining families together?
The Bible was not written to support partisan political winds that can change direction in an instant. Romans 13 does not instruct anyone to be subject to the governing authorities only when a certain party is in control.
Anabaptists got it right when they called for separation of church and state centuries ago. Earthly power has messy compromises, doubly so for Christians who pursue it.