If you hear somebody quote the Bible outside of church, it’s usually not a good sign. The occasional gasp of “Jesus Christ” or “Gaht damn” and various forms of “Jesus be a fence” are all right, but those aren’t really Bible quotes and could denote anything from having missed the bus to winning the daily Lotto at the Kwik Shop.
Actually, quoting the Bible is usually unnecessary because if you’re doing Jesus’ work, you probably don’t have to quote his instruction booklet to convince people that you’re doing the right thing. If you give a homeless guy some money, you don’t have quote Luke 6:20-21—“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”—because it’s obvious you’re doing something kind and righteous.
In fact, usually the only times you hear people quoting the Bible is when they’re about to do or have done some foul nonsense and they want to justify it. (I mean, doesn’t every conflicted action hero mumble, “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do,” right before doing some John Wick-level violence to 30 people in an underground cocaine den?)
So Thursday, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions justified America’s despicable practice of separating parents from children at the U.S. border by quoting the Bible, that should’ve been a sign to the world that he was up to no good.
Just about every religious organization on the planet has condemned the U.S. decision to separate families at the border. Catholic bishops have even contemplated sending clergy to these “detention” camps in order to investigate exactly how these men, women and children are being treated. Sessions, whose own United Methodist Church declared former President Barack Obama’s and President Donald Trump’s immigration policies too cruel, decided to drop the clergy clapback with his own verse at a meeting of law enforcement officials at Parkview Stadium in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Thursday.
“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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, according to New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
I believe at that point the entire room began to shake, and a lightning bolt struck the podium, leaving the word “Wrong” burned across the stage. But those are unconfirmed rumors.
First, we live in a secular democracy, which means I’m never happy when any elected official or representative of the government starts justifying policy on the basis of faith. Certainly not from a party that backs neo-Nazis and apparent pedophiles. More importantly, I’m not a biblical scholar, but absolute deference to the government doesn’t sound like anything I learned in my 10 years of mandated Sunday school lessons.
What Sessions said boils down to this: God has dominion over everything, and the government exists only through God’s grace, so therefore the government is an extension of God and should never be challenged. That sounds like a recipe for religious authoritarianism to me.
Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. His use of this quote puts Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III in very special company. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 13 has been used by just about every horrible authoritarian government in history to justify any act of racism, violence or oppression.
Slave owners used it to justify the Fugitive Slave Act.
Hitler used Romans 13 to rebuke Christians who rejected the rise of his Nazi Party. South African apartheid leaders used Romans 13 to justify their subjugation of the black population of the country. In other words, there just isn’t a lot of precedent in world history for anyone quoting Romans 13 to justify fealty to the laws of government, unless that government is up to no good.
It’s also worth noting that, like most forked tongue representatives of the Trump administration, Sessions is intentionally lying and conflating to justify his bigotry anyway. Sessions would have you believe that everyone at the border is breaking the law, so taking their kids is not only a deterrent to future border crossings but also a necessary evil in order to manage the large population of people seeking entry into the United States.
Verily I say unto thee, that’s white nationalist trash. Many of the families at the border are asylum seekers, and that is completely legal. Asylum seekers have the right to come here, seek asylum and wait for a court date (which is usually more than a year), and it will be either accepted or rejected. What is happening now is the equivalent of a woman going to the cops to escape an abusive husband, so they label her a criminal, throw her in jail and put her kids in foster care ... and then they admit they lost her kids six weeks later.
Large numbers of people crossing at our southern border are not criminals; they are not breaking the law; and under no circumstances should they be subjected to this kind of abject violence and degradation. I’m not sure what kind of Christian government thinks it’s good policy to snatch breastfeeding kids away from their mothers, put children in internment camps with murals of a smiling Trump on the walls, or lose who knows how many kids to child traffickers and perverts, but apparently that’s the kind of government Sessions thinks God is down with. So sayeth the Lord.