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Romans 13


by Caleb Talley 

By now, you’re well aware of what’s been going on down at our southern border. For weeks, thousands of children – some as young as eight months old – were stripped from their parents as they await trial for illegally entering the country.

President Donald Trump’s no-tolerance approach, which began this spring, gave immigrants and refugees a choice: leave now, with your family, or be separated from them while you wait for approval of asylum.

Those with legitimate requests for asylum, such as those fleeing certain death in their Central American home countries like El Salvador (which has one of the highest murder rates in the world), would be forced to have their children removed from them while waiting for approval, a process that could take weeks or even months.

Regardless of where you stand politically, this type of policy is grotesque and demonstrates the worst of America to the rest of the world. It’s not a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans (I know many in the GOP who despised the decision), rather, it’s a matter of decent human beings vs. a-holes.

I get it – Trump didn’t create the policy. But he did enforce it, and had the choice all along whether or not he would. Per usual, heliedfor days, saying the matter wasn’t up to him, that he had no power to change what had been put in motion. But he reversed course on Wednesday by signing an (unnecessary) executive order to end the practice. Thousands of children still wait to be reunited with their family.

But that’s not what we’rediscussing this week, class. This week, we’re discussing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the method in which he chose to defend the practice of taking children away from their parents. In defending his boss, he cited Romans 13.

Having been raised in a Missionary Baptist church, the son of a deacon, I often turn to the Bible for insight and reflection on many an issue. That being said, Sessions missed the mark.

Romans 13 is a complicated passage, and has been debated for hundreds of years. The first verse reads: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

Scholars, historians and politicians have been trying to properly interpret this text for generations. And one of the most common interpretations we’ve seen over the years is the verse’s perceived call to blindly obey government officials. The rest of the chapter appears to forbid resistance to power and civil disobedience. But if the Apostle Paul, who authored the book of Romans, declared resistance damnation-worthy, what about the civil disobedience referenced throughout the Bible?

Had the Hebrew midwives of Exodus been blindly submissive to their rulers, they would not have spared the live of Moses, given the Pharaoh’s orders to kill all newborn boys. Daniel practiced civil disobedience when he refused to worship King Darius, before he was thrown into the lions’ den. Jesus, himself, acted against Jewish law by working and healing on the Sabbath, interacting with lepers and breaking bread with the marginalized.

And why would Paul preach blind obedience to the same government that had him imprisoned? The same government that expelled his people and crucified Jesus? Over time, Paul’s words have been changed from “higher powers” to “governing powers.” Perhaps he’s not referencing political authority, at all.

But I’m no Bible scholar, and I can’t say how exactly the passage should be interpreted.

But I know how Sessions interpreted it last week. By citing Romans 13, the Attorney General showed us just how deep his authoritarian roots go, and in doing so, he joins a tradition of interpretation that sees the passage as support for unchecked authority. It was used to defend King Charles’ absolute monarchy in the 17thcentury, the Fugitive Slave Act in the 19thcentury and Nazi oppression in the 20thcentury.

If that is how the passage is to be interpreted, would it not also apply during the American Revolution, the ultimate act of civil disobedience? Does it only apply to Republican administrations? I can only imagine the response had it been President Obama who cited the passage and suggested his authority not be questioned.

Instead of kowtowing to the will and the way of whoever’s in power, let’s submit our instead to what’s right. The Republican Party, which both Trump and Sessions represent, has long called itself the party of family values. One can’t be pro-life and pro-family, while placing hatred and blame at the feet of innocent immigrant children.

Paul may have written “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” But Jesus said, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not.”

Not today, Jeff.

Arkansas Money & Politics Editor Caleb TalleyIn Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at Read more Cash & Candor here

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