One of the biggest stories this week was the Trump Administration (because Sessions said it and then Sarah Sanders endorsed the general principle without saying she knew his exact words) stance that Romans 13 justifies the policy of separating children from their parents who have entered the country illegally (and even those seeking asylum though it gets nuanced on this part). Here’s Sessions: [embedded content] Here are some of my thoughts on this: ==> Why is Sessions chuckling throughout the whole thing? I haven’t watched much footage from him before. Is this just how he talks? If not, is this nervous laughter? On the face of it, it looks like not only is he justifying the policy of separating children from parents who are not dangerous criminals, but he thinks
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One of the biggest stories this week was the Trump Administration (because Sessions said it and then Sarah Sanders endorsed the general principle without saying she knew his exact words) stance that Romans 13 justifies the policy of separating children from their parents who have entered the country illegally (and even those seeking asylum though it gets nuanced on this part). Here’s Sessions:
Here are some of my thoughts on this:
==> Why is Sessions chuckling throughout the whole thing? I haven’t watched much footage from him before. Is this just how he talks? If not, is this nervous laughter? On the face of it, it looks like not only is he justifying the policy of separating children from parents who are not dangerous criminals, but he thinks it’s no big whoop, and that the religious people criticizing the policy are being silly gooses.
==> The agnostics who are freaking out about Sessions setting up a theocracy are being obtuse. He wasn’t saying, “We are proposing this policy because of Romans 13.” Rather, he was saying, “This is our policy, it makes total sense, and for those of you objecting from a Biblical perspective, let me use your own source against you.”
==> Even when I agree with their overall position, I can’t stand the way liberals on major TV handled this. E.g. an anchor on an MSNBC show stood up and read from an actual Bible (from the gospel of Matthew I believe), and during the segment the ticker on the bottom of the screen flashed something like, “Sessions uses Bible verse that justified slavery.” At the risk of being cliched: THIS IS WHY TRUMP WON, guys.
==> I have been trying to pin down the exact policy and whether it truly is new. The point of the present post is to talk about the theology. But if you want to zoom in on the truth, try reading this Vox piece and this National Review piece. They both kinda sorta agree on what’s actually happening right now, and that it is indeed different from what happened under Obama, but the interpretation is (naturally) very different. (Incidentally, in July 2016 the NYT criticized the Obama Administration for keeping entire families–intact–in detention facilities.)
==> Here’s the opening of Romans 13:
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
==> Naturally, Romans 13 is very difficult to swallow from a libertarian perspective. However, it’s hard to swallow, period. It doesn’t seem to jibe with Paul’s own life, or the life of Jesus for that matter. This guy spells out the huge (apparent) problem. I’ve written on this here, here, and here.
==> The standard Christian libertarian take on this is to say that Romans 13 obviously doesn’t mean everybody should obey any government rule whatsoever.
==> Yet I think just everybody (except Hannah Cox who made a somewhat similar point on social media) is missing the main problem here. We aren’t arguing over whether people should break U.S. immigration law. The question is, what should U.S. government officials do to them when they get caught? Romans 13 doesn’t give guidance to rulers on how to set tax rates, or what to do with a horse thief. Rather, Paul is telling fellow Christians (who at that time are living under the jurisdiction of secular rulers) that they shouldn’t make trouble. So when some Christians are saying to members of the Trump Administration, “We think you are punishing these admitted lawbreakers too harshly,” it’s a total non sequitur to cite Romans 13.
==> Let me try this another way. When the Trump Administration started to rollback the Clean Power Plan, or repealed portions of Dodd-Frank, or reduced various tax rates significantly, would it have made any sense for Nancy Pelosi to object, “Whoa! How can you tweak what the authorities were doing under the previous administration? Don’t you know God put Obama in office to execute justice?”
Of course not. Even if you thought Romans 13 was correct on the plain-sense reading, such a hypothetical move by Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t make sense. We are discussing what the government’s policy ought to be. And once we frame it that way, yes, I think a Christian really should be sympathetic to the notion that even lawbreakers should be shown mercy. That’s one of the main planks of Christianity.