Recently U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday cited the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents caught illegally crossing the border:
“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. If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution.”
In order to unpack the validity of this statement, let us first take a look at the biblical reference in full, and compare the context of what Paul was addressing in this verse, to the actions AG Sessions uses it in support of.
Romans 13:1-7 (ESV)
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but too bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
This passage addresses the responsibility of Christians to the governing authorities because they have been “ordained by God”. This is interesting considering that in the previous chapters of Romans, Paul is addressing the correct manner in which the internal workings of the church should be carried out, how Christians should treat one another, and how a Christian should present themselves to would-be converts.
In Rome, Some believers were beginning to cut themselves off from their Judean roots, Paul, therefore, gave very clear instructions about how they were to relate to the leaders of the synagogue. This context should make sense of verses 1-7. Paul speaks of authority that exists from God (v.1) and is instituted by God (v. 2). This hardly is a description of Caesar and his legions. It does, however, sound like Judean synagogue rulers who can also be called “God’s servants” (v. 4) and “ministers of God” (v.6). Also in verse 6, Paul is telling his readers to adhere to the two-drachma Temple tax. Even the Roman historian Tacitus mentions Gentile converts sending contributions to the Temple. Paul is dealing with a group that has neglected to send contributions (also called “tithes”), and he urges both Jews and Gentiles to contribute voluntarily.
Unless you are living in a cave, you are probably aware that ICE, under the direction of the white house, has ramped up their efforts of deporting illegal immigrants back to their home countries. The current modus operandi of ICE is also resulting in the separation of children from their parents. Under current U.S. law, a child born in the united states by two illegal immigrants is granted U.S. citizenship. The parents of the said child, however, are not and remain in violation of the law. The Trump administration has received harsh scrutiny from left-leaning media outlets about the issue of immigration since Trump began campaigning. This situation only exacerbates their concern, and the White House needed to release a statement that would put those criticisms to bed and sway the trust of the American people in support of the administration’s methods.
Paul in Romans 13 is addressing Christian congregations and pointing out errors they are committing in their respective roles in the church, including a failure to obey ordained leadership.
Sessions, however, is addressing the people of the United States, and stressing that the immigration laws of the United States must be obeyed under all circumstances. Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed this sentiment saying: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”
Clearly, These situations are hardly alike, an answer for one problem in a particular situation might be the completely wrong solution in another situation and context. With this in mind, I pose the following simple questions:
1) If the law in question is not biblical, is it still moral to follow it?
2) Why should someone who is not a Christian care about the supposed biblical justification of the current immigration policy?
It is quite short-sighted of AG Sessions to cherry-pick verses to fit his particular message on immigration, as several other verses even advocate disobedience to government when a law goes against God’s commandments (Exodus 1:17,21; 1 Kings 18:4-16; Daniel 3:12-18; Matthew. 2:12; Acts 5:29; Hebrews 11:23) Others even outright abhor executive powers in government, as a king or a President might wield (1 Sam 8).
There also exists other verses that promote welcoming strangers and sojourners in your country: Leviticus 19:33-34 Matthew 25:35 Exodus 23:9 Leviticus 24:22 Exodus 22:21. A political opponent to Mr. Sessions could cherry pick any one of these verses to support a counter message. But this would be just as off base and out of context as the original statement.
Jeff Sessions used a verse from the bible out of its historical and literary context to promote a U.S. law. As a Christian and a libertarian, I take issue with this. Not only for the misuse of the word of God but also toeing the line of establishing a religion in the U.S. government. The laws of man are not moral, and they never will be. As much as statists will try, the government cannot make people good or make people Christian, especially under the threat of force. In fact, history would show that quite the opposite occurs. It is my hope that Christians will look past their blank confirmation bias relating to this situation, and instead keep a more open mind.