Religious leaders do not support Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s use of a biblical verse to defend the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies.
“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 last week. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
He is hardly the first bigot to pick and choose throughout the Bible specifically looking to Romans 13 to justify racism. It’s long been used to justify things from slavery to the Holocaust to police shootings of Black men.
In this case, Sessions said a Bible verse supports President Trump having parents and children separated at the border.
The original text, a letter from Paul to the Romans, reads, in part:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.
That same day, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it “very biblical to enforce the law.”
Religious leaders disagree.
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe of the United Methodist Church wrote in a recent blog post that to say separating parents and children at the border is “consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel.”
“Christian sacred texts should never be used to justify policies that oppress or harm children and families,” Henry-Crowe wrote. She also pointed out that the Trump administration cannot justify oppressive policies when they’re the ones who made them to begin with: “The Trump Administration implemented these policies. They have the power to stop these horrific actions.”
Henry-Crowe and others have also pointed out that Sessions’ speech chooses one text in the Bible that he can translate to support his policies. She wrote:
The commandment in Chapter 13 to “be subject to the governing authorities” is bracketed by preceding and following passages containing the command to “love.”
Earlier verses detail what love looks like:
“Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lordextend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12: 9-11, 13 NRSV, emphasis added)”
Meanwhile, leaders from nearly two dozen religious organizations came together in opposition of Trump’s policies.
“Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children,” the leaders stated together. “As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.”
As far as political affiliations, Trump has been pushing the false narrative that the policy is a Democratic one and that he is only enforcing it.
Former First Lady Laura Bush, wife of former President George W. Bush, penned an op-ed in which she stresses that this is by no means a partisan issue.
“People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer,” she wrote. “I moved away from Washington almost a decade ago, but I know there are good people at all levels of government who can do better to fix this.”
Her husband was actually the one who initiated the “zero tolerance” policy, The New York Times reported, but not with the intentions Trump has enforced:
In 2005, he launched Operation Streamline, a program along a stretch of the border in Texas that referred all unlawful entrants for criminal prosecution, imprisoning them and expediting assembly-line-style trials geared toward quickly deporting them. The initiative yielded results and was soon expanded to more border sectors. Back then, however, exceptions were generally made for adults who were traveling with minor children, as well as juveniles and people who were ill.
Today, a slew of key players on both sides have spoken out strongly against the inhumane policy. Republicans formerly and currently in office have criticized the policy with such words as “wrong,” “inconsistent with American values,” “heartless” and “inhumane.”