Refugee women and children wait on a bridge to see if they may enter the United States in June 2018. Credit: Courtesy / John Garland

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week referenced Christian scripture to justify separating refugee children from their families at our southern border, quoting Romans 13. It is one of the passages in the Bible that every child can quote – even a child who’s never been to Sunday school.

“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,” Sessions on Thursday told law enforcement agents in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “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.”

At the beginning of the chapter, Paul describes the danger of a rebellion against the government and then gives clear instruction justifying the Christian payment of taxes to avoid financial debt.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3

For many generations, governing elites have cut off their reading at verse 6, misinterpreting the entire chapter as an absolution for some of the most atrocious laws and regimes in history.

The second half of the chapter delivers the thrust of the teaching and much of the Gospel. Paul writes that all laws are summed up in the single rule:

… Whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

That is the rhetorical pinnacle of Romans 13. Paul then points out the urgency of clothing ourselves in an armor of light, putting away our selfish desires, and finding our identity in Christ.

My 6-year-old struggles with reading, but ask her what Romans 13 says, and she will tell you.

My mentor when I was training to become a pastor told me to continually ask two questions. First, “what the hell is going on?” And second, “what in heaven’s name is going on?”

The hell is this: The violence in Central America forces families to flee with little preparation or information. They travel north through Mexico where they are met with the violence, extortion, and rape – the atrocities they tried to leave behind. They are driven by the hope of saving their children’s lives and the rumor that asylum is possible in the United States.

When they get to ports of entry, they are blocked from crossing to where they can legally ask for asylum. Last weekend I saw hundreds trapped on the bridge, unable to seek asylum and terrified to walk back into the clutches of the cartels in northern Mexico.

Desperately, many cross the river, find the Border Patrol, and ask for asylum while on U.S. soil. They are accused of a misdemeanor, arrested, and then fathers and mothers are separated while the children are taken away. The government is beginning work on larger detention facilities for children. Governing officials use sacred scripture to justify the traumatizing of helpless children.

What’s happening in heaven’s name is this: churches in Mexico operating within cartel territories have overflowed as shelters for refugee populations – Despite their own poverty they have supplied sustenance for those stranded on the bridges or the banks of the river. In response to weeping parents desperate to find their children, immigration lawyers have walked families through the system.

Our friends at BCFS, a global network of nonprofits operating health and human services programs throughout the U.S., Eastern Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, have restructured their office to respond to the massive influx of fostering needs created by family separation. Groups of families within local churches have chosen to foster these children out of the detention centers until they can be reunited with their parents while demanding that this hellish practice of family destruction ends. 

“What God joined together, let no man separate,” Jesus said in response to a legal question about how families can break apart (this is in Matthew 19, just before he blesses the little children). It was a difficult teaching about divorce that worried his disciples, but it clearly shows the sacred value of family over written law.

In heaven’s name, let our governing officials turn to Romans 13 – all of it. We Christians respond with a resounding, “Yes!”  We have faith in this truth that “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

To support the cross-denominational call to end migrant family separation, click here.