Respect the Just Use of Scripture
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Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a Bible verse to defend the Department of Justice’s policy of separating children from adults and detaining children at 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 the government for his purposes.”
Selecting a line from the Bible to prove a point is tricky business. Verses have been used throughout history to justify slavery, child abuse, domestic violence, genocide, and more. As Antonio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice wryly observed: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
To avoid manipulating scripture, we must consider a verse within the context of the passage and the whole Bible. The command to obey authority from Romans 13:1-7 should be read in the context of the virtues of mercy and graciousness in Romans 12 and the verses that follow in Romans 13. The policy of family separation is also contrary to Jesus’ teaching that to love the Lord and to love your neighbor are above all other commands (Mark 12:31). In the Old Testament the most often quoted command is to show hospitality to the foreigner e.g. Ex 23:9, Lev. 19:33-34, Deut 10:17-19.
Romans 13 says the purpose of government is to pursue what is good, which is possible though not inevitable. There are just laws and unjust laws; just leaders and unjust ones. In our democratic system, it is the job of informed citizens and engaged Christians to actively pursue justice.
When a political leader utilizes the Bible to endorse a policy, there is the tacit expectation that all Christians endorse this policy. It was an unjust, un-Christian policy. We will not be silent when our sacred books are being used to manipulate citizens. We will continue to advocate for humane and just immigration policy.
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