I have been asked more than a few times this week how we as Christians should feel about Attorney General Sessions’ use of Romans 13:1-7 to justify public support of government policies. The Attorney General offered the Scripture to defend immigration policies that force a separation of children from their parents. This passage has been a controversial one for centuries, using by members of the church in America in the 1850’s to support the institution of slavery; and by members of the German church in the 1930’s and 1940’s to justify allegiance to Nazi policy. In the letter to Romans, Paul clearly supports the idea of obedience to civil government as such government is designed to be for the greater good.
I don’t know why Paul wrote as he did. Some of my colleagues have ventured a theory that he knew the mail was being examined by Roman authorities; thus he didn’t want to aggravate them. Paul was a citizen of the empire, although history proves that he didn’t always follow the rules and the laws and was imprisoned for that and perhaps even was killed because he refused to adhere to civil authority. I believe that Paul spoke of obedience to authority that supported good and punished evil. I believe that is why he wrote as he did. If those roles were ever reversed, then he believed that the government was no longer ordained by God. In other words, the limit of law was proper devotion to the intention of God.
One chapter earlier, in Romans 12, Paul wrote:
“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. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
In the verse immediately following the Attorney General’s quote Paul wrote,
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Love your neighbor as yourself.
I don’t pretend to have the truth. I certainly don’t have all the answers. I can only advise that this is a time to search deeply into our faith and to examine God’s intention and the words and example of Jesus the Christ. I hope that in doing so, whatever things that separate and divide us as Christians can bring us together in living in a Christ-like manner. I pray for our nation, our leaders, and those who our government serves.
-The Rev. Art Ritter