The ongoing crisis at the border with children taken from their parents, resulting in families being torn apart, continues to dominate the news. Even though as I write this word is out that the President will reverse the policy, there is still concern about families and the ways in which public policy has impacted their lives. So many – all the living First Ladies (including the current one), to 70 ex-US Attorneys, to the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to a number of CEOs of the nation’s largest corporation, to even the most senior members of Congress from both parties, all these and more have decried this action as immoral, even akin to “child abuse.”
Sadly, however, those in support have cited another authority, to justify their actions – the Bible.
Seriously! That’s what has been claimed. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? That the Bible supports the taking of children from their parents?
Well, not exactly. The quote given by the Attorney General of the United States is from the New Testament, from Romans 13. Here’s what it says:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
The rationale that supporters point to is pretty simple and straightforward. Since government is in place, it must have been put there by God, and if God put it there, it must be good and right. So don’t argue, just go along with what the government is doing. After all, government is “God’s servant for your good.”
OK, I’ll buy it that God’s word is in there somewhere, but not as obviously as one might imagine. After all, the American Revolution opposed a government – was the King of England “God’s servant” for the good of the colonies? Hardly? That’s why we have a July 4th celebration – because long ago, Patriots decided that the government isn’t always doing God’s stuff.
And then, what of those who in the middle of the 19th century defended slavery, in part because government allowed it, and government was provided by God, so it must be OK? We ended up fighting a bloody civil war over that one.
But this is even more personal for me. I am of German descent. My ancestors on both sides of my family came to this county in the mid-19th century, almost 100 years before the Nazis took over Germany. Even so, I cringe when I think of what Germans did in the Holocaust and in WWII. And then I “double-cringe” when I think of how German Lutherans bought into the Nazi message. How could that happen? Romans 13. Don’t argue. God is at work. Even in the Nazis!
The German experience is more than an embarrassment – it’s disgraceful, revolting, and utterly sinful. And it is a painful reminder that government is not always of God!
Yet, there is an irony in the claim being made that Romans 13 justifies the ripping of children away from their parents. In fact, Romans 13 proclaims the opposite. You just need to read a little bit further, down to verses 9-10:
The commandments…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. (Romans 13:9-10)
There it is, right there in Romans 13. The call, not to rip families apart, causing emotional trauma for children and parents alike. The call to love others, and the proclamation that we fulfill the law, not when we demand that laws be kept, but when we love our neighbor.
Now, that is radical.
I am proud to be an American, and I relish a justice system which, while being very imperfect, is a whole lot better than the systems in many countries. Yet, as a patriotic American (which I believe I am), I also can’t deny that much too frequently our system, in the hands of very imperfect people (just like me) can go far astray. Laws are not always just, and laws are not always justly applied.
Moreover, while I am an American, I am first a disciple of Jesus. And what does Jesus call us to do? Work justice in the lives of others, love our neighbors, and even love our enemies.
The message of the gospel, from Paul, from Jesus, from God is truly radical. It calls us to see the law as something very different. Not as keeping the rules and regulations, but as a guide to reaching out to those in need. I observe the law best, I fulfill God’s commandments, when I love my neighbor!
Some will say, “Ah, but immigrants are not my neighbor.” A certain lawyer once tried that trick, but Jesus put him in his place (see Luke 10:25-37 – the parable of the Good Samaritan).
I do understand that this is part of a larger, political debate over immigration and immigration policy. I get that. Immigration concerns do need to be addressed. But don’t separate families. And then, don’t blame the Bible!
Ripping apart families is not the answer. “What would Jesus do?” This isn’t it! We can and must do better. Work to develop an immigration policy that recognizes territorial integrity, but does so without the moral wrong of ripping apart families.
And we can start by reading a little more of Romans, and using God’s word for what it is intended – to reveal to us God’s work in the crucified and risen Jesus, the one who died for me, yes, but also the one who died for families that have been separated. And even for government officials who did the separating. The one who loves all people, those who are victims, and even those whose actions frustrate and anger me. The one who calls us to do the same!
Let’s pray that this is the end of a bad policy, and let’s also pray for the wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to meet the legitimate needs of all of God’s children.