Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently defended the separation of illegal immigrant children from their parents at the border by invoking a statement from the 13th Chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Here Paul declares all government authority is appointed by God and should be obeyed accordingly.
But would “all authority” include Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Pinochet and a host of other cruel autocrats and mass murderers? Appointed by God?
That particular passage, incidentally, has a history of conflicting interpretations and abuse. And the basis for Sessions’ entire argument supported by scripture also infringes on our constitutional traditions of separation of church and state. Human law and God’s law are not one.
Contrary to what many in today’s evangelical community like to believe, the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Although most all the delegates to our Constitutional Convention were believing, practicing Christians, a proposal to declare us an officially Christian Nation was introduced but defeated. These wise and experienced men had witnessed what overzealous congregations inspired by ego-driven pastors could do in a fit of misguided spiritual passion and took steps to guard against it. If anyone wants to live in a country where God’s law and man’s law are one, Delta has flights leaving every day for Iran where Sharia Law alone prevails.
It is in situations like this that the controversy over a literal interpretation of the Bible reemerges. Biblical literalists assert that the Holy Scriptures are God’s exact words as He communicated them to His appointed scribes. My first question is, to which Bible are they referring? No one seems able to agree on how many editions or versions exist, which books should be included and which versions are truly authentic.
I have counted over one hundred English translations alone. Most of my family, which includes several preachers (Baptist and Methodist) and my own church (Episcopal) appear to favor the King James Version. But few would argue it is the original and only authentic text. In fact, it isn’t even the original English translation.
Resistance to critical study of the Bible stems from the belief that if any part of the Holy Scriptures is called into question, the entire basis for our laws and moral codes would be in danger of immediate collapse. This is ridiculous.
The Japanese have laws and cultural admonitions against murder, stealing, cheating, lying and most of the other offenses the Judeo-Christian world opposes. Yet one would be pressed to round up a handful of Christians in the entire country (statistically Japanese Christians number less than 3 percent, mostly recent converts). And this pattern exists throughout much of the world. Certain universal norms, values and prohibitions seem to transcend ethnic and cultural boundaries.
Now back to the immigrant question. Jesus provides no specific instructions on how to treat the children of illegal immigrants. But He minces few words on how to treat the poor, dispossessed and imprisoned in 73 different passages.
Noted British essayist G. K. Chesterton observed that the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found too difficult and not been tried at all.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.