What do Loyalists opposing the American Revolution, European Christians defending Nazi rule, conservative religious South Africans defending Apartheid and the Attorney General of the United States have in common?
They have all cited Romans 13:1 as a justification for their actions.
It happens all the time. People use passages from the Bible to support their positions on abortion, immigration, LGBTQA persons, spousal abuse. Unfortunately those who do this betray their ignorance of the most important Biblical calls to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God and to love one another.
Yes, Mr. Sessions used Romans 13:1 to justify the policy of separating children from their parents who have entered the country illegally, but only if you take the verse out of context.
Mr. Sessions apparently didn’t read the whole letter.
For example, Paul writes in chapter 12 of Romans, “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.” (Romans 12 9-10, 13, 16)
I would add that if we treat our enemies in this manner, we no longer have enemies.
So, what is Paul saying to the church in Rome about Christian living and civil authority? Chapter 13:1 though verse 7 is the second part of a two-part exhortation on Paul’s part. The first section begins in Chapter 12:14 through verse 21, most of which is quoted above.
It is a given that civil authorities have been corrupt. But it is also the desire of God that there is civil order within the world. Christians are called to be among those who strive for that civil order. By acting out of compassion and love for others.
It is also mistaken to think Paul would have understood our contemporary concepts of separation of church and state. In fact, Jesus whole ministry was to announce the reign of God, a kingdom. Or, as a friend pointed out to me one time, it is not the Democratic Republic of God. It is the Kingdom of God. There are things we don’t get to vote on. Micah 6:8 for example. As well as John 15:12.
And so how do I, someone who claims Christ as the Savior of the world, respond to the current situation involving the policy of incarcerating entire families who illegally try to enter the country? First, I want to respect the authority that is vested in our elected officials. We have a process for making changes when they act out of their own self-interests and not the welfare of the people.
It’s called voting.
Second, I continue to pray for the welfare of our elected leaders, that they will govern with compassion, acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with God. It is God’s desire that we all live in that manner. As Christians it is our obligation to do no less than that.
“Whatever you do to these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” — Jesus of Nazareth.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.