Last week, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, used scripture to justify closing America’s borders to those in need of refuge and tearing children away from their families.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said.
His remarks smack of theological heresy.
First of all, he’s misinterpreting the text. Paul was arrested by the government because Christians challenged the government. That’s one of the reasons Paul ends up getting killed. The rest of the text talks about how government should be used for good.
What’s more, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament to the New Testament that one of God’s primary concerns is we care for the stranger, that we do not rob children of their rights and mothers of their children, that we make sure the stranger is treated like a brother or sister. Nowhere do Jesus or the prophets say we should be taking children from their families.
Sessions is operating from the same playbook of biblical heresy that was used to support the genocide of Native Americans, lock black people in chattel slavery and segregate people under Jim Crow. He’s using old tricks that go all the way back to slave master religion.
He’s adding to this the sin of making children the prey – something the Bible clearly recognizes as evil.
And let’s not ignore the role race plays in this all. The separation of children from their parents goes back to slavery. The white supremacist Richard Spencer has said immigration is a proxy war and may be a last stand for white Americans who are undergoing the painful recognition that unless dramatic action is taken, their grandchildren will live in a country where they’re minorities.
We also can’t lose sight of the fact that while tearing children from their families is evil, Sessions has been against every form of immigration reform, even bipartisan proposals. Yes, the children part is evil. But Sessions has also backed voter suppression measures, attacks on the poor and giving welfare to corporations. All of that is wrong. As is written in Isaiah 10: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed.”
When you map out the states and regions that have the highest poverty rates and child poverty rates, lowest wages, most people denied health care, worst environmental protections, worst immigrant and LGBTQ protections, highest rates of voter suppression, these states also boast the highest number of people who profess to be Protestant evangelicals.
This battle over the Bible recalls the battle that took place in the Abolitionist movement. Slaveholders produced a Bible that did not include the Exodus, the prophets or the teachings of Jesus where he comes to release the slaves and preach good news to the poor. Abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and preachers and religious leaders like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison referenced Leviticus and the jubilee, took up a resistance religion of the slaves, and would not concede the Bible and theology to extremists and bigots who defile the deepest values of love, mercy and justice.
Dr. Martin Luther King said we have a responsibility to challenge any law that’s against God’s law and the laws of justice.
The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized President Donald Trump’s administration over immigration policy on Wednesday, declaring that separating mothers and children at the US border is “immoral.”
“Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, released a statement calling for an end to the “harmful and unjust policy,” saying in part, “As a Catholic bishop, I support political and legal authority. I have always taught respect for the civil law and will continue to do so. But, I cannot be silent when our country’s immigration policy destroys families, traumatizes parents, and terrorizes children.”
Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, said via Twitter May 31 that “separating immigrant parents and children as a supposed deterrent to immigration is a cruel and reprehensible policy. Children are not instruments of deterrence, they are children. A government that thinks any means is suitable to achieve an end cannot secure justice for anyone.”
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “I don’t think we should obey a law that goes against what God intends that you would take a baby, a child, from their mom. I mean, that’s just unjust. That’s unbiblical. That’s un-American. There could be no Bible passage that would justify that.”
Sessions also left out a portion of the very passage he quoted. The passage goes on to say: “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”