Brandi Miller, writing for the Huffington Post, claims Jeff Sessions Has Got The Bible All Wrong. Does she get it right?
Since October 2017, at least 2,700 children have been separated from their families as the result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy to reduce undocumented entry into the United States. The decision to capture and detain individuals isn’t new, but it has evolved since an iteration of it was employed by the Obama administration to respond to a “crisis” of undocumented immigration. What is new this time is the separation of children from their families.
How does a government dealing with illegal actions of people who are not its citizens have anything to do with the bible?
This recent wave of family separations (at least 1,995 during April and May) has resulted in children being placed in dehumanizing and traumatizing environments as their families are sent to detention centers around the country. Children have been placed in a variety of crowded centers, including a converted (and overcapacity) Wal-Mart, not knowing if they will ever see their families again. The U.S. is once again using scare tactics, despotism and cruelty as a disincentive to seeking asylum.
These people are entering the country illegally. How is this any different from a child whose parents are jailed for committing any other crime?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted the Bible in order to justify the separation of children from their families, saying: “Illegal entry into the United States is a crime — as it should be. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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.”
And Sessions is correct that both Jesus and Paul taught that their people should obey the secular authorities. As Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
Sessions accused churchgoers of using the Bible against him, and in this game of proof-texting volleyball, shot an out of context verse over the net to defend the dehumanizing of an entire group of people.
Wrong. He is on the money in saying that Paul supported following the law of the land.
The Bible is more frequently descriptive than it is prescriptive, so in order to make such a claim about the government’s right to obedience, one must look at the full narrative of the text and see the ways that the law, prophets and Jesus himself viewed an issue, how it has been historically implemented, and the results of such activity.
Paul was a Pharisee before he converted to Christianity, meaning that he supported a literal interpretation of the Torah, the Jewish law. There is no doubt that he opposed Roman laws that went against Jewish teachings. By quoting this passage, Sessions is claiming that the laws being enforced do not contradict the laws ordained by God.
So yes, Session can claim that one should obey the government, but he must also wrestle with the same text that praises the disobedience of the midwives in Exodus who prevented infanticide at the orders of Pharaoh.
Infanticide violates the law of the Torah (you shall not kill), and in exodus, the Jews were enslaved by Pharaoh, unlike the Jews in Rome Paul was writing to, who were living as free people in the city.
Daniel and his resistance to empire worship and government imposed religious restrictions.
Worship of the emperor violates the law of the Torah (you shall have no other gods before me).
Jesus with his critiques of Rome, and many many more examples.
Jesus was not a critic of Rome. The passage I quoted above is one of the few where he mentions Rome.
It should give us great pause when in the same breath, people in office can describe the dehumanizing practices they are executing and then manipulate scripture to compel people to obey such evil. If the things that you are doing require such a strong backing in order to justify, your problem is less likely the Bible or people’s critique, but the practice or law itself.
This is only true if you see enforcing immigration law as dehumanizing and evil. If you see these laws as justly protecting the citizens and legal immigrants, chastising those who would violate them makes perfect sense.
In Christian culture, the word “biblical” is a catch-all way to say that one’s idea is true because it is in the Bible. Let’s be honest though, you can claim that all sides of any issue are biblical if you pull the right words from the text and claim that they are universally applicable and understood outside of interpretation and the larger context of the scripture.
Biblical merely means of the bible. If you quote mine the bible to prove your point, you will lose, because a smart Christian will know all the passages that you are contradicting.
This type of exegesis is not only lazy, but it is dangerous. Scripture in itself is not a weapon, but proof-texting turns a Biblical story into a tool to take life from some, and to ascribe value to others. This has always been true in the United States. The origins of the U.S on the backs of the enslaved, on the land of indigenous people and the labor of immigrants has always needed a justification narrative and the Bible has always been a good place to start.
Given that the bible contains a lot of morally valid teaching, it is a good place to start to justify something you want to do. The fact that immoral people use it to justify immoral acts doesn’t change that fact.
We never see God siding with figures in scripture who separate kids from their families nor do we see Jesus employing xenophobia as he establishes his Kingdom.
The law of the Torah, God prescribes death for many crimes, which would indeed have separated children from the parents. Preventing people who are not citizens of your country from entering it illegally is not xenophobia.
Weaponizing the Bible also has made the U.S. masters in revisionist history, where, instead of a few generally upper class, cis white men making decisions out of greed, fear or the desire for power, we receive a narrative about God blessing the constant violence that they use or sanction to show why He is on our side.
If you think they are doing so, and want to convince the Christians they are talking to that they are false, why not come up with some real arguments, instead of racial and sexist slurs?
Proof-texting and weaponizing the Bible always benefits those in power when in reality, the whole narrative of scripture is the liberation of the oppressed. So sure, there is a time when an early church leader asked for obedience, but Paul isn’t Jesus, the law of the Romans isn’t universal and at the end of the day, even if they were, the weaponizing of scripture is not the way of Jesus and strips people of their God-given dignity in the name of theological rightness.
Jesus said the same thing Paul did. Exodus is about liberation of the oppressed, but the rest of the bible is not. For example, the prophets largely focus on obeying the will of God, and Jesus’s message is that the world is about to end, and that only those who follow the will of God will be granted life in the eternal kingdom that follows. Jesus was actually very good at weaponizing the scriptures of the Jews against the Pharisees and the priests of the temple.
We never see God siding with figures in scripture who separate kids from their families in the name of obeying the law (Pharaoh, Herod).
In both of these cases, the children were being murdered.
Nor do we see Jesus employing xenophobia or exclusionary tactics as he establishes his Kingdom.
Jesus is very exclusionary. He gives a long list of things one must do and not do before they may enter the kingdom. He is also initially xenophobic, saying that his message is not for the gentiles, but only for the Jews.
When Jesus’ kingdom and His leadership are central to the life of Christians, they will not find themselves unapologetically invested in the rulers of our time who seek political accolades and power.
I agree with this 100%.
Rather, we will gravitate toward those leaders who divest from power, welcome and provide for the most marginalized, and who critique the U.S. government, questioning how our history of violence, exclusion and cruelty fit into the will of Jesus, a homeless, poor man of color.
But those leaders will not be politicians.
People who oppose religious conservatives keep making the same mistake. Jesus never condoned having the government tax the people. His message was one of personal charity and personal responsibility for ones actions. He believed that the current secular government was doomed, and would be destroyed and replaced by God.