Church and State Are Separate, so Stop Speaking for God!

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Over 2000 children and their families have been through a terribly traumatic experience in the past couple of months. Our immigration system is so broken that it takes pictures of weeping children to remind us that this is a humanitarian crisis. Many would emphasize national security as priority, while demonizing the thousands of people coming to our borders from places where daily life is tenuous at best. Now we have a presidential administration that favors punitive measures as deterrents over compassion and more humane responses. Even as he signed an executive order reversing the expressed policy to rip families apart, putting children and parents in separate detention facilities, Donald Trump went on television expressing his desire to do away with judicial process at the border. Instead he said we need more ICE agents and police to enforce our immigration laws.

Last month Jeff Sessions and Sarah Hucakbee Sanders used biblical quotes to support enforcement of the law:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes…Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
— Attorney General Jeff Sessions

This is the same verse used by people justifying enslavement of people in the American South.

I firmly believe in the separation of church and state for this very reason. I do not want politicians, legislators and administrations speaking for God. Any good exegete of the bible knows that you don’t just pull out on verse to support your position — what’s called proof-texting — but you have to look at the rest of the bible through the lens of the ultimate promise of God to save and redeem this broken world. In any case if Sessions or Sanders bothered to continue to read the rest of chapter 13 in Romans they would find these words too: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” And as Christians they would know that Jesus confronted authorities and law keepers whenever the law was used to keep people marginalized and treated as less than God made them to be.

Christians should abide the law as long as it does not disregard the inherent humanity and value of all people, regardless of their nationality and whether they have transgressed the law. God’s way is the way of mercy and grace not enforcement of law to the point of destroying lives. The permanent damage to the psyche of young people by way of the traumatic separation from their parents is unjustifiable. For Sessions and Hucakbee-Sanders to defend their gruesome policy with scripture makes me angry as a pastor and person of faith.

Our immigration system is broken and in need of reform, but this administration has sought to enforce the immigration rules through terrorizing people desperate for help. And now it wants to deny people the right to seek asylum, which means the United States would be violating its own commitments as part of the global community.

The overwhelming message of the bible is that God’s love and mercy extend further and wider than humanity is every ready to accept. And if we are using texts to support any arguments, shouldn’t we include the ones that support love over judgment and condemnation? In Deuteronomy the law says that we are to take care of the stranger (immigrants) in our midst:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
— Deut 10:13, NRSV

Empathy is what is needed as we wonder what to do with so many people seeking refuge at our borders. Many of our ancestors came to the US with hope against hope. They faced hostility from those already here and many had nothing, except their family and the faith that somehow they would make it. Those most eager to enforce these policies seem unwilling to acknowledge that there could be a more just and humane way to address the crisis at our border.

Over the course of its 242 year history the United States has violated a number of times its own ideals to welcome the tired and poor, huddled masses yearning for freedom. And when it does it is incumbent upon its citizens, in particular those of faith, to hold it accountable. If we are Christians our citizenship is in God’s kingdom first. When law becomes so egregious as to violate the will of God, we must not be silent. I pray that people of good conscience oppose yet another regressive policy action taken by this administration. And I pray for the families broken by them in the meantime. May God work in the hearts of those who think this is a necessary evil to see beyond the law to the suffering of people driven from their homes by violence and poverty.

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37-39 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we [did these things]? 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these [my brothers and sisters], you did it to me.’
— Matthew 25:34-40, NRSV