Sunday, June 17, 2018

It's been a Romans 13 kind of week ....

In the interest of fair disclosure, I am not a huge fan of the Bible --- although I do enjoy quoting it out of context now and then. Everyone does.

So it was interesting last week to see U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pluck the opening verses of Chapter 13, St. Paul's letter to the Romans, out of his Bible and use them in defense of the current administration's policy of loosing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stormtroopers on the land, confining brown-skinned asylum-seekers in concentration camps and ripping children out of their mothers' arms for separate interment.

Here are the operational verses, Nos. 1-5 (Revised Standard Version): "1. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4. for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience."

These have long been favorite verses of Christian zealots, used to justify anything from slavery to genocide.

As a rule, Paul's further comments in Chapter 13 generally are not cited: "8. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 10. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

Dr. Martin Luther King, a saint whose words often are more relevant in today's world than those ossified utterances of Paul, did a good job of clarifying the distinction --- in his letter from the Birmingham Jail --- between obligation to obey just laws and to resist those that are evil:

"One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.' "

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