Let’s Be Honest

Just a couple of days ago our esteemed Attorney General Jeffery Beauregard Sessions used Chapter 13 from the Book of Romans to defend separating children from their families at the U.S. Southern border. Many of these families came in search of amnesty, others just for a better life for their family.

The outrage for this use of the bible was deserved and expected. A wide range of theologians, biblical scholars, priests and bishops rightly condemned using the bible in this way. It was refreshing to hear so many voices speaking out against such vile trash. Many folks pointed out that it was pretty simple to view Romans 13 differently by reading the whole thing. Still others quoted Leviticus and other Hebrew scripture about welcoming the stranger.

I obviously agree with those who oppose Jeff Session’s view of the bible, but let’s be honest, it is entirely possible to justify almost any type of atrocity using the bible. Taken as a whole, our Holy Scriptures are pretty messed up and have been used for millennium to hurt people. It was used to condone and encourage slavery, segregation and apartheid. It has been used to condemn to death those who are gay, or even someone who had a tattoo. By and large there has been a lot of damage done with the bible.

Please don’t say “But we’re not all like that”!  I know. But that doesn’t help. Just like it doesn’t help to say to a woman who has bravely spoken her truth in saying #metoo, that not all men are assholes. Or to say to a person of color who has been discriminated against by white people their whole life,  not all white people are bad.  Our scripture, as interpreted through the ages, has created many of the problems that movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter seek to correct. It has also created the problems that have led to thousands of people flocking to our borders and to the laws that keep them out.

Here’s the problem, even those who are religious cannot fight Jeff Sessions, or anyone else, with an appeal to the other side of scripture. We cannot just say, “You say God is mean, we say God is nice”. As a former Southern Baptist I can guarantee that for every verse you can find to not separate families there will be a verse that does. It’s sad, but it’s true.

What we and everyone else should be doing is pointing to international law like the UN Declaration of Human Rights or other non-religious laws that condemn the cruel separation of children from their parents. If we cannot find them, then we need to fight to create them.

As a reminder, slavery was legal, segregation was legal, the holocaust was legal, internment camps were legal, and each and every one of these atrocities used holy scripture to justify itself.  To bring things right up to the present day, it is probably legal for ICE agents to separate kids from their parents. That doesn’t make it right by any means, but if the only things we have to say to fight it is “My interpretation of the bible says you are a bad person for doing that”, then honestly the argument is over before it has begun.

If your faith tells you, as mine does, that cruelty to families is wrong, then do something about it and be prepared to face the consequences. Posting bible verses on social media doesn’t count. Go and lie down on the roads leading to detention centers. Begin non-stop vigils and hunger strikes. Don’t write another damn letter that no one is going to read, go and get arrested at your senator’s office. Create a disruption and cause a disturbance in the name that which is good. Seek to change unjust laws for everyone, even those who have never heard of your faith.

About fatherjeremy

I am a priest in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Oregon. I am currently the rector of Christ Church, Lake Oswego, OR
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