Many a man has made a bargain with the devil, but Jeff Sessions in the last 24 hours takes the cake.
As soon as the Twitter world got hold of his words to a law enforcement group in Indiana yesterday, he was excoriated--but praised by the the right. Law and order (and security) justify anything, in the eyes of some.
I tweeted and Instagrammed a commentary by Bible scholar Willis Barnstone on Romans 13: 1-7:
"Here, though the ruler is the tyrannically mad Nero, Paul offers no worldly [com]plaint. Rather, he calls for submission to the ruling powers. More than anything else, one may attribute these passages to necessary pragmatism in light of the mortal consequences of rejection of Roman rule" Restored New Testament, p. 683).
In his remarks, Sessions hit back at the “concerns raised by our church friends about separating families,” calling the criticism “not fair or logical” and quoting scripture in his defense of the administration’s tough policies.
“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,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
Protect the weak and lawful? People claiming asylum from gangs at the US border are weak and lawful, obeying international law, but Sessions attacks them and separates children from parents.
I succumbed to tears. It really hurts to have the Bible I love misused to abuse human beings in need of basic kindness and decency. How many people will believe him and conclude that the Bible and all who read it are unjust and useless?
My next step: tweet against Sessions' words. Cite Scripture. In 92 places the Bible says to be kind to strangers "the alien in your land." See the Evangelical Immigration Table. This was and is a basic tenet of Judaism: kindness to strangers, widows, orphans.
Then online I found Ed Kilgore's article on the Daily Intelligencer:
No, Jeff Sessions, Separating Kids From Their Parents Isn’t ‘Biblical’
Kilgore points out that "the attorney general of the United States was clearly angry about religious objections to his administration’s immigration policies."
Sessions especially didn't like this statement from the US Catholic Bishops: "...In the face of these unjust laws and the systematic deportation of migrants instituted by the Department of Homeland Security, God’s people must stand in solidarity with the migrants in our midst."
So he tried to fight religion with religion, using words of the apostle Paul of Tarsus in Romans 13: 1-7.
To succeed with the argument that every ruler (even Emperor Nero) is "God's servant to you for the good," Sessions had to take the passage completely out of context.
He omitted any mention that Paul is a Roman citizen writing a letter to Romans and saying that it's probably better for them if they obey Roman law.
Sessions had to overlook that Paul would only say this because there was debate among early Christians about whether they needed to obey unjust Roman laws--for example, "perform a public offering to the Roman gods, or we will execute you."
He had to overlook the execution of Jesus by Romans trying to put down unrest in the conquered nation of Israel. Was Pontius Pilate "God's servant" to Jesus "for the good"?
When Paul himself was beheaded a few years later in Rome, was that order made by "God's servant" acting for Paul's own good? No, it was a tyrannical government trying to put down a bothersome social and religious movement.
Ed Kilgore gives us two great paragraphs of perspective on misuse of this passage:
Those who are unacquainted with the Bible should be aware that the brief seven-verse portion of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans has been throughout the ages cited to oppose resistance to just about every unjust law or regime you can imagine. As the Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum quickly pointed out, it was especially popular among those opposing resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act in the run-up to the Civil War. It was reportedly Adolf Hitler’s favorite biblical passage. And it was used by defenders of South African Apartheid and of our own Jim Crow.
Sessions’s suggestion that Romans 13 represents some sort of absolute, inflexible rule for the universe has been refuted by religious authorities again and again, most quoting St. Augustine in saying that “an unjust law is no law at all,” and many drawing attention to the overall context of Paul’s epistle, which was in many respects the great charter of Christian liberty and the great rebuke to legalism in every form. Paul was pretty clearly rejecting a significant sentiment among Christians of his day: that civil authorities deserved no obedience in any circumstance.Kilgore concludes that Sessions is a wolf and has no business telling the sheep to obey his crafty laws. But above all:
for the sake of all that’s holy, don’t quote the Bible to make the Trump administration’s policies towards immigrant families sound godly.