The bible verse that Jeff Sessions used to defend the immigration crackdown also defended slavery

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Clearly troubled by the widespread moral outcry over the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from their parents at the U.S. border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a Bible passage on Thursday to justify an extreme application of immigration. “I would like to quote to you the apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13,” Sessions said in a speech to law enforcement officials in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The sessions continued by emphasizing that the Bible maintains that Christians are to “obey the laws of government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

It is fitting that Sessions turned to Romans 13. The text has long been used by Christians who attempt to defend immoral public policy. In the 1850s, when slave masters paid public preachers and theologians to defend the plantation economy from abolitionists, Romans 13 was also one of the most widely cited texts on slave religion.

Indeed, the sad reality of American Christianity is that it has been used throughout our nation’s history to justify and support injustice.

Reverend Robert Dabney, a mid-19th-century Presbyterian minister and theologian in Virginia, explained in a letter to one of his colleagues why using the Bible to defend slavery was so important. “So here is our policy: continually pushing the biblical argument, pushing abolitionism to the wall and forcing it to adopt an anti-Christian position. In doing so, we are forcing all northern Christianity to side with us. Without a false moral narrative to counter the moral movement of abolitionism, slave owners knew that human slavery could not last.

But while slavery officially ended after the American Civil War, the religion of slave owners did not disappear. The Redemption movement that sought to reverse Reconstruction in the south was led by white Christians with Bibles in hand, celebrating the restoration of a “God-ordained” order. Richard H. Rivers, Methodist professor of moral philosophy in Florence, Alabama, explained that the duties of whites to blacks “are no longer the duties of masters to slaves.” Yet these are the duties of the superiors towards the inferiors. Whether Jeff Sessions ‘parents still had a copy of Rivers’ Elements of Moral Philosophy on the shelf at home, his slave religion permeated the culture of the Southern Methodist Church into which Sessions was baptized.

The redemption movement that sought to reverse reconstruction in the south was led by white Christians with Bibles in hand.

But reading the Bible by the slave owner – and indeed Romans 13 – was never the only way to read it. Sharing with Saint Paul the experience of living in bondage, Christian slaves always understood that the New Testament did not offer general approval of authority. The God who brought Israel out of Egypt and Jesus from the dead wanted people to be free. A government that denied freedom was not an instrument of God’s will, but its adversary.

Thus, Harriet Tubman performed the same Bible sessions cited when she lifted hundreds of people out of slavery, defying state and federal law on runaway slaves each time. One hundred years later, when Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was criticized for leading a moral movement against segregation, he quoted St. Augustine: “An unjust law is not a law at all. Submitting to governing authorities, as Saint Paul teaches in Romans 13, was submitting to prison as a form of civil disobedience, King insisted. It was to challenge with our bodies an unjust order which denies the image of God in our fellow human beings.

Christians must stand up and reject personal interpretation of Sessions of the Bible. And many already are.

Christians must stand up and reject personal interpretation of Sessions of the Bible. And many of them already are, including Reverend William Barber, Liz Theoharis, and hundreds of other poor countryside ministers and lay Christians. Just before Paul urges the Romans to submit to the governing authorities, he offers this clear instruction: “Do not be conquered by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is the true context of this passage, and Sessions seems to have conveniently forgotten.

“Before this campaign fails, we will all go to jail,” sang members of the Poor People’s Campaign in state capitals across the United States, submitting to governing authorities as St. Paul did 2000 ago. years. If Sessions wants to have a Bible study in the public square, we are ready.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is the author of “Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion” and a member of the steering committee of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

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