Friday morning, I was on my way to a work meeting when I heard on the radio AG Jeff Sessions quote Romans 13 to justify taking children out of their parents’ arms when they enter the US and seek asylum before they get the formalities out of the way. Up until then, I hadn’t been thinking about politics. I’d slept as late as possible, then guzzled coffee while rushing around to prepare for the meeting. My thoughts were full of curriculum for our ESL classes, with remembering to bring the snacks, and with trying to text many of my friends to say “Eid Mubarak” just as they invariably text me with glittery memes proclaiming “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter.” So I listened with sinking hearts to Jeff Sessions’ particular accent, declaiming to his “church friends” that they were just following what the Apostle Paul said to do in choosing to take children as young as a few months old from their parents. He claimed that the verses in Romans 13 which call on Christians to obey their governments justify the Trump administration’s decision to treat people who are fleeing horror and pleading for help as criminals, and to deter them from seeking help in the US by taking their children from them at the border.
“It’s just for a short time, just a week or two,” Sessions said, like that made it okay. Once when my oldest was 3 he ran onto an elevator as the doors were closing, and we searched frantically for 10 or so minutes before we found him, chatting away with several new friends he’d made on that exciting elevator ride without Mum and Dad. Those 10 minutes, which happened in my home country where I understood everything that was happening, were longer than most plane rides.
Later that day, I got on Twitter. Happily I have not seen even one person defending either the policy or the use of Scripture. But I still want to address it.
First of all, yes Romans 13 does say we should follow laws. But read in the context of even just that one book, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t mean following unjust laws that fly in the face of God’s law, which is summed up in this: Love your neighbor as yourself. When we go out to look at the entire Bible, we read of Peter and John arrested for proclaiming Jesus, and their response: We should obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29) Or look at the Hebrew midwives in Moses’ day. When told to kill all newborn baby boys, they didn’t and then lied about it. And God blessed them, because they chose not to obey an unjust law. (Exodus 1)
As of Thursday, 11,432 migrant children are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, up from 9,000 at the beginning of May. These numbers include minors who arrived at the border without a relative and children separated from their parents. (from WaPo article) If you click on that link, you’ll read of a toddler, heart-broken, crying inconsolably, because her mother has been taken from her.
This morning’s sermon was on the Lord’s Prayer. “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Familiar words to many. But the speaker made the point: if we are truly focused on God’s kingdom, and his will, we will not be afraid of our own temporal kingdom (i.e. the USA, for example) being overrun, wasting away through generosity. Instead, when we look first to God, when we seek his kingdom not just on Sunday mornings but in every aspect of our lives, we will be ready to welcome the poor, the hungry, the desperate. Freely we’ve received, freely we are to give. (Matthew 10:8)
It’s easy to toss Bible verses around, pull out of context some words to give weight to our argument du jour. I don’t want to do that. If we are to take it seriously, that’s the last thing we can do with it. I give special weight to the life and teachings of Jesus though, and so I want to end with a sobering word from the risen Christ to the church of Ladodicea in Rev. 3: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”