17 Jun 2018

Jeff Should Go to More Bible Sessions

Politics, Religious 12 Comments

One of the biggest stories this week was the Trump Administration (because Sessions said it and then Sarah Sanders endorsed the general principle without saying she knew his exact words) stance that Romans 13 justifies the policy of separating children from their parents who have entered the country illegally (and even those seeking asylum though it gets nuanced on this part). Here’s Sessions:

Here are some of my thoughts on this:

==> Why is Sessions chuckling throughout the whole thing? I haven’t watched much footage from him before. Is this just how he talks? If not, is this nervous laughter? On the face of it, it looks like not only is he justifying the policy of separating children from parents who are not dangerous criminals, but he thinks it’s no big whoop, and that the religious people criticizing the policy are being silly gooses.

==> The agnostics who are freaking out about Sessions setting up a theocracy are being obtuse. He wasn’t saying, “We are proposing this policy because of Romans 13.” Rather, he was saying, “This is our policy, it makes total sense, and for those of you objecting from a Biblical perspective, let me use your own source against you.”

==> Even when I agree with their overall position, I can’t stand the way liberals on major TV handled this. E.g. an anchor on an MSNBC show stood up and read from an actual Bible (from the gospel of Matthew I believe), and during the segment the ticker on the bottom of the screen flashed something like, “Sessions uses Bible verse that justified slavery.” At the risk of being cliched: THIS IS WHY TRUMP WON, guys.

==> I have been trying to pin down the exact policy and whether it truly is new. The point of the present post is to talk about the theology. But if you want to zoom in on the truth, try reading this Vox piece and this National Review piece. They both kinda sorta agree on what’s actually happening right now, and that it is indeed different from what happened under Obama, but the interpretation is (naturally) very different. (Incidentally, in July 2016 the NYT criticized the Obama Administration for keeping entire families–intact–in detention facilities.)

==> Here’s the opening of Romans 13:

1Let 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. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

==> Naturally, Romans 13 is very difficult to swallow from a libertarian perspective. However, it’s hard to swallow, period. It doesn’t seem to jibe with Paul’s own life, or the life of Jesus for that matter. This guy spells out the huge (apparent) problem. I’ve written on this here, here, and here.

==> The standard Christian libertarian take on this is to say that Romans 13 obviously doesn’t mean everybody should obey any government rule whatsoever.

==> Yet I think just about everybody (except Hannah Cox who made a somewhat similar point on social media) is missing the main problem here. We aren’t arguing over whether people should break U.S. immigration law. The question is, what should U.S. government officials do to them when they get caught? Romans 13 doesn’t give guidance to rulers on how to set tax rates, or what to do with a horse thief. Rather, Paul is telling fellow Christians (who at that time are living under the jurisdiction of secular rulers) that they shouldn’t make trouble. So when some Christians are saying to members of the Trump Administration, “We think you are punishing these admitted lawbreakers too harshly,” it’s a total non sequitur to cite Romans 13.

==> Let me try this another way. When the Trump Administration started to rollback the Clean Power Plan, or repealed portions of Dodd-Frank, or reduced various tax rates significantly, would it have made any sense for Nancy Pelosi to object, “Whoa! How can you tweak what the authorities were doing under the previous administration? Don’t you know God put Obama in office to execute justice?”

Of course not. Even if you thought Romans 13 was correct on the plain-sense reading, such a hypothetical move by Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t make sense. We are discussing what the government’s policy ought to be. And once we frame it that way, yes, I think a Christian really should be sympathetic to the notion that even lawbreakers should be shown mercy. That’s one of the main planks of Christianity.

12 Responses to “Jeff Should Go to More Bible Sessions”

  1. Mark says:

    My computer was down for about a week, so I haven’t been able to post comments (wasn’t going to use my phone for that), and there are a couple of old posts I may still reply to, but I wanted to jump on this one since Sessions is such a creep. I’m basically re-writing something I sent out to friends via email about two years ago – slightly editing it for this somewhat long response.

    On his radio program, People to People, Bob George [who passed away 6/1/2018 – Mark] used to substitute his name (or have a caller substitute theirs) for the word love in the passage in 1 Corinthians:

    “Mark is patient, Mark is kind and is not jealous; Mark does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; Mark does not seek his own, [Mark] is not provoked, [Mark] does not take into account a wrong suffered, [Mark] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Obviously we all fail miserably, and it’s a great way to illustrate a point.

    Bob did that many times over the years. Now let’s try it with Romans 13:

    “Every person is to be in subjection to Hillary Clinton. For there is no authority except from God, and Hillary Clinton is established by God. Therefore whoever resists Hillary Clinton has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed Hillary Clinton will receive condemnation upon themselves. For Hillary Clinton is not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of Hillary Clinton? Do what is good and you will have praise from Hillary Clinton; for she is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for Hillary Clinton does not bear the sword for nothing; for she is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection to Hillary Clinton, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for Hillary Clinton is a servant of God, devoting herself to this very thing. Render to Hillary Clinton what is due her: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Romans 13:1-7 NASB

    It seems sacrilege just to do the mental exercise of substituting her name in that passage for the “governing authorities.” [I wrote the above prior to the 2016 election somewhat expecting the wicked witch to win the election.]

    I’m no expert on this passage, but it is one that appears to require an alternate explanation from the standard “obey the government and pay your taxes” response – especially in light of other mandates from scripture that are obviously clear: Acts 5:29 (obeying God rather than man) comes to mind as the first.

    Secondly, I always think of Christians quoting Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22, (and Mark and Luke) that we are to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

    That statement is often quoted as a clear-cut response to the question of whether we are to pay taxes. But note two things – that statement was to shut up the Pharisees and scribes who were trying to trap Him. It was not a response to believers asking a question re what we owe the government (if anything.) Also He never explains what ARE the things of Caesar’s, which again, may be nothing. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to interpret that passage as Jesus very cleverly asking them (and by implication the rest of us) to “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” And that’s related my third comment, which is

    Remember the accounts in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 where Satan was tempting Christ?

    Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Mat 4:8,9

    And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Luke 4:5-7

    While we know that ultimately God is in control of everything, and nothing is allowed outside of His will, even evil, it seems Satan has dominion over earthly realms. Jesus rebuked him and told him that only God is to be worshipped, but He did not deny Satan’s claim to ownership of “all the kingdoms of the world.” I think that’s because it was a true statement.

    I have heard, but cannot document because I haven’t taken the time to confirm it, that pastors and theologians used Romans 13 in the 30s and 40s to encourage German citizens to submit to the Nazis. I believe using the principle of “subjecting yourself to the governing authorities” to advise Christians to obey the State, pay taxes, etc., is just like using 1 John 1:9 to teach believers we are to confess our sins to get forgiven – a gross misunderstanding of the passage. And as I said above, I’m no expert on the Romans 1 text. It’s on my list of Biblical subjects/issues/difficulties of things to get a better understanding of. But because a straight reading conflicts with so much of what we know about the rest of scripture, it must be a mistake to understand that text as requiring automatic submission to the State. (I’ve read a few things related to what the two terms ‘subjection’ and ‘governing authorities’ may actually mean instead of what they are typically taught to mean – perhaps the answer is there.)

    There are plenty of examples in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s people disobeying the State and being commended for it. My favorite is Rahab the harlot. First, she’s a prostitute. Second, she presumably broke the law by hiding the spies. Third, she lied (that’s one of the top ten) to the King of Jericho. Three sins there – breaking the law by hiding the spies, lying, and to the King no less. You can’t get any more anti-State than that. But then we find her in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of the faith.

    I’m chopping off the end of my email, but one of the people that replied to my email was Becky Akers. She mentioned that she had done a series of interviews on the subject of Romans 13 from an anarcho-capitalist perspective. I asked her permission to compile the interviews into a pdf and she agreed. If you email her at libertatem@aol.com, she’ll send you a copy – I highly recommend it. Another great resource is this article from lewrockwell.com https://www.lewrockwell.com/2010/09/paul-green/does-romans-13-oppose-liberty/

    The bottom line is that the commonly preached argument that we are to obey the “governing authorities” is totally wrong and Sessions is a creep extraordinaire.

  2. Harold says:

    “I wrote the above prior to the 2016 election somewhat expecting the wicked witch to win the election”
    Had you got your prediction correct you could have saved yourself some typing! Trump is only 4 letters.

  3. Harold says:

    …er, 5 letters.

    • Mark says:

      It works with pretty much any President’s name, and probably will indefinitely.

  4. Harold says:

    ” for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. ” and ” it seems Satan has dominion over earthly realms… I think that’s because it was a true statement.”

    The latter does not necessarily follow, Satan has a reputation for telling porkies and lack of a direct contradiction from Jesus does not seem strong enough to me. Although you may be drawing your conclusion for other evidence not shown here.

    Jesus’ response to the pharisees seems open to a reasonable interpretation – one of which os that you don’t owe anything to the authorities. When Bob mentioned this before I was not sure that Jesus had actually avoided answering the question. It certainly does not directly tell you to obey. The passage here seems much more troubling, in that it does on its face directly tell you to obey the authorities.

    “I have heard, but cannot document because I haven’t taken the time to confirm it, …” I would be very surprised if every nominally Christian authority has not used that passage to get obedience. But since we are on the subject…

    Your reference to Rahab is presumably very pertinent to the more modern equivalent dilemma – should you lie to prevent discovery of Jews by the Nazis. From what you say here I presume the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”? My personal morality does not have any problem with that one.

    • Mark says:

      Harold: “should you lie to prevent discovery of Jews by the Nazis.”

      Of course. imo, lying to the state is not wrong, whether it is hiding Jews from the Nazis, lying to a cop that’s pulled you over for speeding, or “cheating” on your income tax. It’s your money being stolen, and you should do what you can to keep as much of it as you can.

  5. guest says:

    “On the face of it, it looks like not only is he justifying the policy of separating children from parents who are not dangerous criminals …”

    Foreigners don’t have to be dangerous criminals to be dangerous immigrants.

    There’s a reason the Left keeps trying to make Puerto Rico a state:

    Glenn Beck -4-28-2010- Puerto Rico_The 51st State- Part 1

    (Libertarians desperately need to watch the old Glenn Beck Program that aired on Fox, if they can find it.)

    Right-wing anti-illegal-alien belief is based on a genuine, and well-placed fear of socialism. (Not that we understand socialism well enough to recognize it when it’s masked by “MAGA!”)

    You don’t have to hate brown people to want to create disincentives that tend to disuade them from coming here.

    I, personally, am all for open migration without citizenship (without a central planner, even), but it seems to me that a significant number of libertarians think that Conservatives hate brown people, or don’t have common decency. Having come from the Right (and still there, to some extent), I can say that such is nowhere near the case.

  6. Stephen Boice says:
  7. Silas Barta says:

    At risk of retreading centuries of theology, may I ask a stupid question? Is it possible the implicit subtext of Romans 13 (being an epistle i.e. advice for an evangelist community) was that it’s referring to the specific polity that the letter’s recipient was living under? That, under the circumstances, *those specific followers* shouldn’t rock the boat?

    IOW, it’s saying, “The Roman rulers are cool. They don’t [currently] persecute people just for deviant ideas, only if you really act like jerks. If you’re not a jerk, you should be okay; God is probably smiling on how they run things.”

    • Mark says:

      I would say no. I agree with you that it’s important when trying to understand a passage in the Bible to take many things into account. Things like the context of the passage itself, the culture at the time, who it was written to, the meaning of the words in the original language, etc.

      All those things can have an impact on our understanding. For example, Genesis 1:28 (“God said unto them . . . replenish the earth” (KJV)) is often used to support the unbiblical gap theory of the creation account. People argue the Earth must have been populated before Adam because of the word replenish. But the meaning of the word replenish in the 1600s simply meant to fill or fill completely, where now it means to fill something up again.

      While God has dealt with certain individuals or nations differently throughout history, I don’t see any reason to think that principles (as opposed to specifics that are clear, e.g., the Ten Commandments) laid out in scripture about how we deal with our fellow man, and in this case the state, are going to change over time.

      Additionally, the Roman rulers were not cool. As a friend of mine replied in the email exchange I mentioned above,

      “First generation Christians had to deal with the likes of Caligula, Nero, Vespasian and many other miscreants who ruled the Roman empire. They had to find a way to exist in harmony with a government and society that represented none their beliefs. They lived below the radar, so to speak, when they could. When they couldn’t, they died as martyrs, choosing death over denying their faith. Later on, when Popes replaced Caesars, it was no different.”

      The early Christians did not have it easy, and Christians now, as then, should realize that bowing down to the state is disobedience to God.

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