I’m all for people of faith using their convictions to drive policy. The Christian faith is all-encompassing, meaning it should influence our work and place in this world.
But I always get just a little uncomfortable when a politician uses a Bible verse to justify a policy position. It isn’t that the Bible doesn’t have answers – it does. But to take it and try to wrap political policy around it should be done carefully, very carefully.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions casually used the Bible last week. He was asked to justify current immigration policy that stops families at the border, incarcerates parents and puts children in protective custody while the parents are detained. “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,” he said. His comments have drawn from all scorn quarters, including fellow Republicans, black pastors, and even Franklin Graham (who I criticized last month)
This verse is good instruction for us being good citizens in hostile territory. But we should tremble when governments decide to use the Bible to control us.
Messiah College professor John Fea claims the verse has been used governments – and they aren’t pretty. British colonists used it to argue against the Revolution. Slave holders used it against abolitionists. Germans used it to convince Christians to support Hitler. South Africans used it to justify apartheid.
So, maybe a different verse would be more appropriate Mr. Sessions.
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Lazy Bible Scholars/Politicians
It’s not just select Republicans who use the Bible to justify policy. President Obama lazily cited the Mary and Joseph story and casually overlaid it to immigration. “They were just strangers looking for a place to house themselves for the night, and there’s no room at the inn.” Um. No.
Nancy Pelosi also found a verse in her Bible in her support for open immigration. “‘The church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people. ‘Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’ That’s so beautiful, because what they are saying is, when you reject these newcomers, you are rejecting those who sent them,” she said.
Roger Olson has a good list of all the places in the Bible that lists “Aliens.” And more than a few people have clung to those verses while proposing the US takes in unlimited immigrants. We should be welcoming and warm to the stranger. But does this apply to a secular government in all cases?
We should all be wary of leaders and politicians who cherry-pick a Bible verse while ignoring the totality of all of Scripture. It’s Biblical ignorance and potentially deceptive.
Using Bible verses on the power of the state while ignoring other Scripture on treating one another with deference, love and respect is incongruent.
Similarly, to advocate for protecting children of immigrants while having no qualms supporting abortion on demand seems to be the highest of contradictions. To talk about separating couples during criminal proceedings while crafting a culture and legal system that destroys the traditional family is also rich with irony.
Immigration is a complicated issue
There’s really no simple answer. And anyone who says they have the solution hasn’t looked at it deep enough or they are not being intellectually honest.
I have traveled to many countries and every one of them had a border. Every one of them had a clear in and out policy. It’s not cruel, unjust or inhumane to protect a nation’s culture, economy and security through a border. Everyone wants to come to America – asylum seekers, economic immigrants and job seekers – as well as those who want to do us harm.
The State’s first job is to protect its citizens – and that may conflict with secondary humanitarian goals. I wonder why a family caught at the border can’t simply be put on a bus or an airplane and sent home. That would be cheaper and less controversial than what we are doing now. Bringing a family to the border shouldn’t get you a free pass in — but it should get you a free bus pass home and not a child detention center.
But I have to wonder about the mothers and fathers who are crossing the border. What are they thinking? What kind of father, what kind of mother would put their children in such harm? Who would commit such a criminal act with children in tow? Would you rob a bank with your son in the getaway car? Would you shoplift your baby in a stroller?
And furthermore, if you were arrested committing the crime, could you honestly blame the law enforcement for putting your child in protective services while your crime was adjudicated? So there’s some blame there as well.
I could find a Bible verse to talk about Irresponsible Parents, but I’m not going to go there.
All sides are using children as a wedge and they should stop it.
Law and Grace = Both are Biblical
To use a single Bible passage to justify one side or another is an automatic red flag. Here’s why. The Bible is full of verses about mercy and compassion. It also contains verses about law and order. The two often seem incompatible when they stand alone.
It has no problem with just war, but it sprinkles peace throughout its pages. It says to hate sin, but love the sinner.
It’s impossible to take a secular nation (yes, America) and expect it to start following the tenants of Scripture without any sort of instruction on how to apply it. The New Testament is first and foremost a guidebook for personal living, not necessarily for state structure. Even Jesus rejected the notion of an earthly kingdom. He knew we couldnt pull it off.
The Gospel is best lived through individuals, often in hostile territory, who bring salt and light to the world.
If the United States of America wants to start living according to the Bible, how about we follow all of it?
Your suggestions are in the comment box!