Immigration, the Attorney General and Our Biblical Mandate

​A statement by Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston

Dear Friends in Christ:

This week I have been dismayed, as I know many of you have, by the news reports of children and parents being forcibly separated by U.S. immigration agents at the Texas-Mexico border. I was particularly troubled by the Attorney General’s use of Scripture (Romans 13) to defend this practice. Many faith leaders have spoken out against this misinterpretation of our sacred text. I want to share with you the essay I sent to several media outlets yesterday.

One of the important messages from the recent Task Force on the Faithful Engagement of Immigration, Refugee and Sanctuary Issues is that the Biblical mandate is clear: As people of faith, we are expected to treat the stranger in our midst as a neighbor who deserves our respect and kindness. No matter where you stand on immigration policy, I hope we can all agree, as Christians, we must find a way forward guided by love.

Grace and peace to you this day,

Scott Black Johnston
Senior Pastor

Attorney General Sessions and the Bible

When politicians quote the Good Book, it makes me nervous. 

Yes, scripture belongs to all people. Yes, it is legitimate when people of faith appeal to holy texts in public conversations. In addition to inviting people into relationship with God, the Bible is a record of the complicated and often conflicted moral conversations that humanity has been having for millennia. There is wisdom here. A society looking for a moral compass can find it here.

Sadly, political figures have a horrific track record of quoting scripture (out of context) to justify some of society’s most immoral actions and systems. “Beware the temptation,” one of my seminary professors counseled, “to put a saddle on a passage and ride it wherever you want to go.”

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was unable to avoid this temptation. In a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Mr. Sessions suggested that God supports the government in separating parents from their children at the border. He claimed that critical comments coming from the faith community in regard to U.S. immigration policy were “neither fair, nor logical.” He went on to say, “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.” 

Romans 13 is a favorite passage of despots. In the mid-1800s, church leaders and politicians in this country cited Romans 13 to suggest that God wanted people to support the institution of slavery. In the 1930s, Hitler demanded that Christian leaders in Germany subjugate themselves to his leadership. Nazi documents quoted – you guessed it – Romans 13. A quick Google search turns up all sorts of things people would like to bless by evoking Romans 13. War against North Korea—Romans 13. Waterboarding—Romans 13. 

Saddling Romans for these purposes is absurd. Read the text. Romans 13 calls us to love our neighbors. Romans 13 does not provide a blanket blessing for anything and everything that a government can or might do.

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds people of faith that their ultimate loyalty is not to any government or ruler, but to God. And God, repeatedly and emphatically, throughout Scripture, reminds people of faith that they are to advocate for the poor and the foreigner. God, repeatedly and emphatically, tells leaders and societies that they will be judged not on their fealty to principalities and powers, but on how they care for those in need.

When it comes to immigrants and refugees in particular, we must consider the overwhelming testimony of the Bible. Again and again, God calls for fair treatment, respect, even love for outsiders in the land. Again and again, God reminds the people that they were once outsiders and aliens themselves, and were welcomed into the land.

One of the most important passages in Scripture, the holiness code in Leviticus, addresses these concerns directly: “When an alien resides with you in your land,” says God, “you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:33-34).

If our leaders would actually incline their ears to the Good Book, they would know that God has a heart for the immigrant, the refugee, the person in the detention center wondering where her children are and if she will ever see them again. To suggest otherwise is twisted. It doesn’t matter whether you tack a Biblical verse on it. It is wrong.

This entry was posted in General News

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