Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked a heated debate recently on immigration and the meaning of a Bible passage. Sessions cited a verse in Romans chapter 13 while defending the Trump administration's policy of separating parents from their children at the border. The policy has been widely denounced by both religious leaders and immigration advocates, among others.
“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,” said Sessions, who is also a Sunday school teacher at a United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Some who share Sessions' faith disagree with his interpretation of the passage.
"It was terrible," said Mike Mather, the senior pastor at Broadway UMC in Indianapolis. "If you read the first 11 chapters of Romans, you get a pretty good idea of what the context of that community was. If you read (Chapter) 12, you see love is supposed to be the guiding force. ... (Sessions) didn't read on very far."
Romans 12 includes the line, "Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home." Those verses, Mather said, seem to run contrary to the policy Sessions was defending. Launched in May, the policy forcibly removes children traveling with parents caught at the border and places them in government care. Prior to Sessions' speech, a group of religious leaders from the United Methodist Church, Islamic Society of North America, Union for Reform Judaism, Mennonite Church and 20 other diverse religious organizations released a joint statement criticizing the policy.
Romans 13 has a history of being used by government officials in defense of their decisions or edicts.The Rev. Rob Saler, executive director for the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Indianapolis' Christian Theological Seminary, said the verses were used by Lutherans in Nazi Germany to justify supporting Adolf Hitler.
"Romans 13, for a long time, has been appealed to in an incorrect way, as a justification for 'Obey the laws, no matter what,'" he said. "Whether they're just or not. I don’t want to be too extreme, but ... in Nazi Germany, Lutherans, for the most part, supported Hitler and they used Romans 13 to validate that."
In an interview with The Washington Post, John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College at Pennsylvania, said the verse was also used to support slavery in the 1840s and 1850s. "(It) is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong," he said. "I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”
In the late eighteenth century, the Reverend William Graham, rector and principle instructor of Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia), annually lectured the senior class, using the Bible as a defense of slavery. Some religious leaders, inappropriately, used the Bible to teach slaves not to challenge or strike their masters, and to willingly accept punishment (1 Peter 2:21). It was common, thought not always strictly enforced, to forbid slaves to learn how to read. Of course, this kept the Bible unavailable to them except as it was shared by their masters or, eventually, by some literate slave or free black preacher.
Saler noted, too, that it's important to consider when Paul wrote Romans. At that time, Christians were being executed by the Roman Empire, he said. What Paul was penning, Saler added, was meant to be a road map to living a gentler life full of charity, a stark contrast to how Paul would have viewed the empire."It's flat-out irresponsible (for Sessions) to use it without attention to the broader context," Saler said. "It's basically practical advice: While you're doing this, sure, go ahead and pay your taxes, give the government its due."But taken as a whole, Romans stands as a counter to unjust government and unjust rule."
~ Dakota Crawford (USA Today)
In the Bible the emphasis upon human rights is rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith. The Mosaic law not only established procedural guarantees before the law, but granted the powerless certain economic claims against the wealthy. Thus, the hungry had the right to glean food (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24; 24:19-22; Mt. 12:1). Debtors could expect their loans canceled after seven years (Deut. 15:7-11). Sojourners, widows, and orphans were given special rights to the food brought to the temple as a tithe (Deut. 14:28-29, 26:12-15).
Unfortunately, the rights of the poor were often neglected or even despised. The prophets, however, became an eloquent moral force in reaffirming the civil rights tradition. Their visions of the holy God radicalized their understanding of sin and sensitized them to the extent of economic exploitation occurring in the land (Isaiah 5:16; 6:3-5; Jer. 22:13-16; Ezek. 18:5-18; Micah 3:1-4). Proverbs and religious hymns also highlight that concern (Prov. 14:31; 29:7; Psalm 15; 113:7-9).
The New Testament reflects the same position. The teachings of Jesus are well within prophetic and are highly critical of unjust treatment for disenfranchised groups. He reminded his adversaries that a human being is of great value (Mt. 12:12).
Jesus saw himself as the champion of the underprivileged, the messianic liberator of the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Jesus' teachings and activities continually reinforced the moral standing of the penniless (Mark 12;41-44), the diseased (Mt. 14:13-14), the aged (Mt. 15:4-6), women (John 4:7-9), children (Mark 10:13-14), and other socially weak groups such as prisoners (Mt. 25:36) and the blind (Mt. 11:4-6).
The writings of Paul and the communal practices of the early church (Acts 2:44-45); 4:34-35) mediated the same moral and theological grounding for civil rights as was found in the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Paul's theological affirmations of human equality were unequivocal (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:3-4; 2 Cor. 8:13-15).
In 1644 an order had been made that no book should be printed unless approved and licensed by the government. This is a part of Milton's great protest against trying to impose a censorship, instead of giving men freedom to choose.
Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably. He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but sings out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.
If every action, which is good or evil in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance and prescription and compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise would then be due to well-being? Many there be that complain of Divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, He gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did He create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?
~ John Milton (1608-1674), Areopagitica
We are coming to the end of the line personally and globally through our rejection of the feminine side of God. Addicts manifest an extreme form of this desecration in our culture, but they are also potential catalysts for the rebirth of the feminine. Not only are they individuals carrying the unconscious of their forebears. As human beings in the history of mankind they are also living out what is unconscious in the social environment.
We can remain blind to our personal shadow until we look into the starving eyes of an anorexic or alcoholic we love; we can also remain blind to the collective shadow until we turn on television and look into the eyes of a starving child.
In a technological civilization geared up for its own heady destruction, we are destined to become the victims of an outworn patriarchal consciousness so long as we collude in equating femininity with biological identity. That kind of consciousness is propelling not only individuals but the whole planet into an addiction to power and perfection which, viewed from the perspective of nature, can lead only to suicide.
Feminine consciousness dare not be limited to unredeemed matter or unconscious mother. The realization that a neurosis has a creative purpose applies globally as well as personally, and surely, in an age addicted to power and the acquisition of material possessions, the creative purpose must have something to do with the one thing that can save us—love for the earth, love for each other—the wisdom of the Goddess. Responsibility belongs in the individual home, in the individual heart, in the energy that holds atoms together rather than blows them apart.
~ Marion Woodman, The Pregnant Virgin
Sir Robert Boyle, born in 1627, is known as one of the first investigators into the physics of the atmosphere and the nature of heat, but his chief mission was to teach, by his example, the value of experiment in research, where he kept the humility of the true scientist always before him.
We are not always bound to reject everything as false, that we know not how to reconcile with something that is true. I have sometimes thought God and men enjoy truth as differently as they do time. For we men enjoy time but by parcels and always leave far the greatest part of it unreached by us; so we know but some particular truths, and are ignorant of far more than we attain to.
Whereas God, as His eternity reaches to all the portions of time, so His omniscience gives Him at one view a prospect of the whole extent of truth; upon which account He sees all particular truths, not only distinct, but in their system and sees a connection between those, that to us seemed the most distant ones.
We ought not always to condemn the opinion which is liable to ill consequences, and encumbered with great inconveniences. We must not expect to be able to resolve all difficulties, and answer all objections, since we can never directly answer those, which we require for their solution a perfect comprehension of what is infinite.
~ Sir Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
Non-violence is not passivity in any shape or form. Non-violence is the most active force in the world. Non-violence is the weapon of the strongest and the bravest. The true man of God has the strength to use the sword, but will not use it, knowing every person is the Image of God. Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of humankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction.
Literally speaking, non-violence means not-killing...but it really means that you may not offend anybody... This is an ideal which we have to reach and it is an ideal to be reached even at this very moment, if we are capable of doing so. But it is not a proposition in geometry, it is not even like solving difficult problems in higher mathematics—it is infinitely more difficult...
You will have to pass many sleepless night, and go through many a mental torture, before you can even be within measurable distance of this goal... Under the rule of non-violence there is no room for organized assassination, or for murders openly committed, or for any violence for the sake of your country...or even for guarding the honor of people that may be under your charge... This doctrine tells us that we may guard the honor of those under our care by delivering our own lives into the hands of those who would commit the sacrilege. And that requires far greater courage than delivering blows.
~ Mahatma Gandhi (from Essays and Reflections on his Life and Work)