Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to pressure from religious communities who are horrified by his policy of separating children from families at the border. He tried to justify separating nursing babes from moms by proof-texting Romans 13, which says Christians must obey governing authorities as ordained by God.
Sessions is lying when he says he is merely enforcing laws passed by Congress. Sessions himself originated the cruel policy of ripping children out of their parents’ arms in early May. Even if it were the law, faith leaders would not allow Scripture to be hijacked in defense of unjust laws that run counter to God’s mercy.
This is why over 2,500 women of faith have signed a petition calling on the Trump Administration to immediately end the barbaric practice of taking children away from their parents. And women faith leaders will rally at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices in Washington, DC, on Tuesday at 11:00.
Let’s remember that slave owners also took Romans 13 out of context to justify slavery. It was so stigmatized by misuse that it hasn’t been used much by public leaders since abolitionists won their moral argument. Abolitionists, like religious leaders today, cried out against the brutality of breaking up slave families.
Like slavery defenders of the past, Sessions clearly did not read the whole chapter. The culmination of what Paul says here is captured in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law”
In fact, from Moses to the early days of Christian persecution, scripture tells us to prioritize God’s higher law of loving one’s neighbor. “Woe to those who pass unjust laws and deprive the poor of their due” says Isaiah 10. Peter in Acts 5:29 echos that: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
When it comes to immigrants, God has spoken clearly. “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) This is a theme throughout the entirety of scripture. Jesus himself was a refugee, and his genealogy includes two immigrant heroes: Rahab and Ruth.
This is why we cannot accept Sessions’s claim that we must deny asylum to families fleeing violence. We all may disagree on specific elements of immigration law, but we can all agree that children should not be taken from parents who are merely trying to get to safety.
Not only do we know Sessions is misusing scripture, we know through our border ministries that Sessions is lying when he says immigrants are trying to “trick” us.
Sessions has also tried to wash his hands clean. His claim that he is merely enforcing laws passed by Congress is not true.
Previous administrations — Republican and Democrats– charged parents seeking asylum with misdemeanors, allowing them to be with their families until their cases could be heard in court. Sessions is the one who has decided to change the way the law is applied. He is now charging parents with felonies and putting them in prison, causing their children to be taken away from them by federal agents. Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy is what changed the implementation of that law.
Last week, Customs and Border patrol officers pulled a nursing child away from her mother’s breast. A father committed suicide after his 3-year-old son was taken from him. Thousands of children are being held in warehouse-like settings in locations far from loved ones. This is sick, no matter how you slice and dice it. It is unnecessary and cruel.
Sessions also lies when he says he is allowing families who cross legitimately at ports of entry on the border to ask for asylum, a right our law protects for people seeking safety. He is separating those families as well, and now agents are even blocking them as they present themselves at the port of entry asking for asylum.
The fact that Sessions has had to trot out a corrupt interpretation of Scripture in the face of outcry from the faith community means we are being heard. He knows his policy will not pass a morality sniff test. Faith leaders will not rest until immigrant children are safe.