The White House has, in recent days, taken to defending its policy of tearing apart undocumented families and jailing migrant children by calling upon a higher power to justify its cruelty.
Speaking to a group of law enforcement officials in Indiana on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has lead the administration’s anti-immigrant charge, said this:
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.
Here’s the verse Sessions is talking about:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Sessions’ citation is an interesting one—not only because it’s coming from a representative of a political party ostensibly based on the principal of getting the government OUT of people’s lives, but also because it’s been used many times before to justify some of the worst political policies in history.
As Messiah College professor John Fea noted to the Washington Post, that verse has popped up more than once in America’s history. The first time, it was used by British colonists opposed to the War of Independence. The second time, per Fea (emphasis mine):
...is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.
But that’s not the only place the verse has popped up. It was also used by German officials in the early 20th Century to help cement support among the country’s Christians for, yup, the Nazis. Hitler himself was reportedly a fan of Romans 13.
It was also used by white religious leaders in South Africa to justify apartheid. And if you want something a little more recent, look no further than one of the White House’s most bigoted religious boosters, Dallas-area Pastor Robert Jeffress, who cited the verse to bolster president Trump’s threat to murder millions of North Koreans with “fire and fury” last year.
All of which prompts the question: Did Sessions simply not know the verse’s tarnished history when he used it to justify tearing families apart? Or did he simply not care? (I have reached out to the Justice Department to ask this and will update if I hear back.)
Similarly, did he also not care that Jesus himself frequently disobeyed “the governing authorities”? And is he ignorant of the fact that reuniting families is one of the most basic thematic through-lines in the entire Bible? Oh, and maybe he should look up Leviticus 19:34:
You are to treat the resident alien the same way you treat the native born among you—love him like yourself, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Which is all to say: Jeff Sessions is bad. Separating families is bad. Using the Bible to justify it is bad. And anyone who does that should be yelled at over and over again on national television until they slink away in shame.