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Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a Bible verse to respond to critics of the DOJ’s policy of separating migrant families: “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.”
This defense is both unsatisfying and infuriating.
First, it’s a post-facto plucking of a Bible verse from its context in order to provide support for an already existing argument. This is infuriating to anyone who has dialogued with evangelicals regarding passages from scripture on themes such as sexuality, race, hospitality, etc. One standard response to any argument: you can take any verse out of context to make it mean what you want. Which is exactly what Sessions just did. He took one sentence from a complex sacred text, employed it for his very specific purposes, and then expected the rest of us to nod our heads in agreement with what the Bible teaches. Exactly what every seminarian and scholar of religion is taught never to do.
Second, it creates the dangerous situation wherein a government official equates the laws and policies he and his colleagues develop and implement with divine order. This is essentially like saying: if it’s a law, then God must have ordained it, and thus you are wrong to disobey, regardless of the law. Critics of the Trump administration often use the phrase “creeping authoritarianism” to describe some of the administration’s policies and norms (or shirking thereof). Sessions’ statement adds theocracy to the mix by likening government officials to ordained priests carrying out sacred laws. Beyond Trump’s intimacy with dictators such as Putin and Kim Jong-un, we now have the Attorney General of the U.S. offering the idea that tearing families apart is part of God’s plan for the United States of America.