Romans 13.1-10

Let the Children Come

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

This past Thursday, the Attorney General of the United States attempted to justify the forcible separation of children from their families, holding more than 1500 of them in a converted Walmart whose walls are papered with portraits of the President, by citing scripture.

If this sounds incongruous to you, bordering on the preposterous, allow me to repeat the sentence: This past Thursday, the Attorney General of the United States attempted to justify the forcible separation of children from their families, holding more than 1500 of them in a converted Walmart whose walls are papered with portraits of the President, by citing scripture.

Here is the lead from Friday’s Washington Post:

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday used a Bible verse to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, suggesting that God supports the government in separating immigrant parents from their children. During a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sessions said, “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 the government for his purposes… Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

Before we get to the clear heart of matter, let me mention three things:

  1. 1. Wrenching 7 verses from Bible completely out of context, and trying to make them appear to say something they clearly do not say, and then presenting it as a biblical mandate is blasphemy, especially when we are talking about holding innocent children captive. There is a phrase for this kind of misuse of scripture; it is called “proof-texting.” Proof-texting is cherry-picking verses out of the Bible in an attempt to prove something you’ve already decided is true.
  2. 2. Has anyone in Washington thought to ask the question , What Would Jesus Do? The Jesus who said, as we heard last week, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me?” The Jesus who said, “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea?” What would Jesus do at the Mexican border? Likely he would remember his own words, “Let the children come.”
  3. 3. If you have to quote Bible to defend your behavior, then chances are you’re probably doing something wrong. Ask yourself: if you are feeding the hungry, if you are housing the homeless, if you are giving to the poor, if you are loving your neighbor, do you really need to justify these acts with an appeal to the Bible? Or is it generally understood you are doing the right thing? If you have to resort to biblical proof-texting to justify your behavior, chances are good that you’re already doing something wrong. (And deep down inside, you know it.)

But let’s get to the true heart of the matter: since the middle of April, more than 2000 children have been separated from families and placed in detention. Now you and I have heard the reasons and rationalizations for this: they children of immigrants; their parents broke the law, and so on. My friends, this specious line of reasoning is just as tortured as Jeff Session’s misuse of Paul’s letter to the Romans. There are approximately 31,102 verses in the Bible; to randomly choose seven of them in order to justify a crime against humanity is wrong.

In fact those seven verses have been pressed into service at least twice before in American history: in the 1770s, British loyalists used them against Revolutionaries to demand allegiance to the laws of the land, which was the crown of England; and in the mid-19th century, they were called upon once again to justify slavery. Thursday’s citation of these same verses by the Attorney General is every bit as egregious and wrong-minded as others.

Sessions should have read further, because just following the passage he quoted – the very next verses – go on to say, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” In the end of course, the true obscenity is not Sessions’ and others’ misuse of scripture; it is the callous disregard of the lives and well-being of children – God’s children. The United States of America is a better nation than this, and we are a better people than this.

Amen.

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