Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that individuals seeking asylum from domestic abuse or gang violence would now be denied. Those individuals, instead of being given sanctuary, will now be prosecuted for entering the country illegally and separated from any children they have brought with them.
In a speech on Thursday, Sessions cited Romans 13 in defense of the recently implemented Trump administration zero tolerance policy that calls for the separation of children from parents who have crossed the border illegally.
AG Jeff Sessions on immigration policy: Illegal entry into the US is a crime; "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." https://t.co/dARdLrNPbW pic.twitter.com/nu5EWCWlJW
— CNN (@CNN) June 14, 2018
Session’s comments have resulted in a backlash from a variety of Christian denominations and faith leaders condemning both the new policies and his use of scripture to defend them.
The United Methodist Church released a statement pointing out the “shocking violation of the spirit of the gospel”.
Furthermore — and in response to the ardent opposition from a wide array of faith communities — the officials responsible for these policies have recently used Christian scripture to justify their actions.
To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel.
Administration officials have used the Christian text of Paul’s Letter to the Romans — his first and weightiest epistle — to justify their actions. The ethical teachings of Romans 12-16 describe that consecrated Christian life requires the duties of love and hospitality. The commandment in Chapter 13 to “be subject to the governing authorities” is bracketed by preceding and following passages containing the command to “love.”
Earlier verses detail what love looks like:
Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord…extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12: 9-11, 13 NRSV, emphasis added)
The Hill reports that the Catholic Church also has condemned this immigration policy.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) declared “immoral” the immigration policy of separating migrant children from their parents on Wednesday.
“Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together,” USCCB’s president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, announced at its biannual meeting in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Religion News Service.
The Southern Baptist Church has denounced the policy and Franklin Graham criticized the Trump administration for separating families on the border. A longer list of faith groups that have denounced the policy and/or the use of scripture to defend it can be found here.
⊕ On Thursday Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary doubled down on the biblical defense, saying “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”
⊕ Reuters reports that a senior government official acknowledges the number of separations have risen sharply recently, in large measure due to new administration policies. The same official was quoted as saying, “Why weren’t we pulling these statistics before? Because it wasn’t a big enough phenomenon that had public interest. Now it’s increasing and it’s of public interest.”
⊕ In Congressional testimony last month, a border official testified that between May 6 and May 19, 658 children were separated from 638 parents as a result of the new policy to prosecute individuals who have illegally crossed the border. That brings the total of separations to more than 2,400. That number does not include recent weeks.
⊕ Human traffickers try to game the system by placing children with unrelated adults. Those separations account for some of the separations.
⊕ There are few immigration detention centers with the capacity to house children and parents together, so previously families have been freed while they await their court hearings.
⊕ According to the official who spoke with Reuters, the majority of separations are made up of Central Americans, some of whom illegally crossed the border and reached out to border agents to request asylum because they feared returning home while others involved were apprehended while illegally crossing the border.
Why It Matters
Yes, any sovereign nation has a right and a duty to uphold the law and protect its border. And, obviously, those illegally crossing the border are by definition breaking the law. However, seeking to separate children from their parents in a zero tolerance policy, knowing full well that the federal government is incapable of protecting children in its care, is not only morally reprehensible but it is a foolish use of tax payer money.
While there will be unavoidable situations where children must be separated from parents who have broken the law, compassion and wise stewardship of taxpayer monies indicate that keeping families intact should be the goal. Using children as pawns to deter illegal border crossings is not something a civilized nation should be doing.
Furthermore, if one is going to use the Bible as a guideline, it is disingenuous to claim the scripture that speaks of obeying the law but omit the scriptures in the same book that counsel hospitality and love. As the statement from the United Methodist Church points out, Isaiah 10:1-3 is something for the Christians supporting these policies to consider:
Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.
Finally, if policy cannot stand on its own, and needs scripture to defend it, that policy is flawed. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with a Muslim President defending policy by citing the Koran, an administration pulling out the Bible to defend policy shouldn’t be cheered either. That way lies a theocracy. The United States is not a theocracy, the very concept being antithetical to the foundational principles the nation was founded on.