Addressing Biblical Misuse and a Call to Love Immigrant Children

When it comes to the Bible and how it gets used in social discourse, there are no shortages of historical and contemporary errors.  Chief among these is when those in positions of authority appeal to the Bible blindly, and without thoughtful interpretation to back up their policies.  Even in America's relatively short history we've seen the Bible used to defend slavery, oppress women, declare war, and more.  This is a misguided approach to Biblical interpretation and often goes against the Bible's central messages, turning it into a tool of oppression rather than a declaration of freedom.

This week US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, quoted from Romans 13 to support the government's decision to take children of immigrants from their families as part of US immigration policy.  Specifically, Mr. Sessions cited verses 1-2 which read "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Read in isolation, out of its historical context, and separate from the rest of the Bible, this passage can easily be used to defend one's position of power and the unethical treatment of those under a particular governing authority.  In fact, this very verse was used many times to justify the owning of slaves and their subordination to owners.  This reveals a tremendous lack of historical humility and paves the way for us to repeat the most heinous wrongs of our past.  

This is morally, intellectually, and Biblically wrong. 

The appeal to Romans 13 is essentially "proof-texting", which means picking isolated verses to back up an already conceived opinion, and goes against even the most elementary forms of Biblical interpretation.  Held in conversation with the rest of the Bible, it's clear that the Biblical mandate is towards protection of the vulnerable, the immigrant, and loving treatment of the neighbor, i.e. everyone.   Anyone who can contort taking children away from their parents in the ways Mr. Sessions stands behind has a very un-Bliblical view of love.  You only have to look a few verses ahead, to Romans 13:10 to get a view of why: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

Biblical love, or love that reflects Jesus, is that of enemy love, inclusion of the outsider, heightened concern for the marginalized, patience, kindness, seeking the good of others, forgiveness, and endlessly extending grace.  It flips the tables of corruption and opens its arms to the destitute.   Any usage of isolated Biblical verses that do not reflect the compassion, mercy, grace, sacrifice, and love of Christ is incomplete and should be reconsidered.  History alone demands this if commitment to Christ isn't enough. 

Central to the Christian faith, of which Mr Sessions identifies, is a Jewish minority who was considered rebellious by both the legal and religious authorities of his time.   Consistently, Jesus loved those on the margins and disrupted those in the center.  Over the centuries his followers have challenged the authority of their perspective governments when the policies and actions of those governments goes against the teachings of their faith, and on behalf of their neighbors who were being marginalized, as Dr. King wrote, "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws".   This type of civil disobedience is as Christian as the cross. 

If we consider the ways Jesus talked about children, the consistent moral exhortations throughout the scripture to care for the least of these, (widows, orphans, and foreigners), or the ways we have misused the Bible in the past, then the usage of Romans 13:1-2 by Mr. Sessions to defend the taking of children from their families should offend and grieve those of us who have found life in Christ and take the Bible seriously.   A serious approach to the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible invites us to love and stand alongside those that these policies affect while standing against powers and principalities of division and oppression. 

A thoughtful response to these policies and misuse of the Bible should be to pray for our leaders, act and speak out for justice, and to take seriously the whole of the scripture in a way that leads us deeper down the path of love.  
* This post was written by Chris Scott who serves as a pastor at Oak Life