US Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a Bible verse on Thursday to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, suggesting that God supports the government in separating immigrant parents from their children.
“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 said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “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.”
“There are two dominant places in American history when Romans 13 is invoked,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. “One is during the American Revolution [when] it was invoked by loyalists, those who opposed the American Revolution. …
“The second spike you see is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong,” Fea said. “ This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”
After the Civil War, Fea points out, historians don’t see many references to Romans 13, because the essence of the passage — submission to authority — is regarded as un-American.
“America was built and born on rebellion and a sort of radical resistance to authority,” Fea said. “Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and the 19th century — and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing, so in this sense there is some continuity —it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda.”
“You cannot read Romans 13 without reading Romans 12,” Salguero said, pointing to the chapter which in part suggests that love must be the guide instead of evil.