Love Thy Neighbor
by Ryan Sinclair
"The Light is coming to give back everything the Darkness stole." - Ariana Grande
On Thursday, June 12 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions misappropriated the Bible in a feeble attempt to defend the acts of the Trump administration's dehumanizing policy of separating nearly 2,000 children from their undocumented parents. Speaking to faith leaders in Indiana, Sessions quoted the apostle St. Paul as he sought to stifle criticism of the Zero Tolerance Immigration Policy.
“Illegal entry into the United States is a crime, as it should be. 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 them for the purpose of order.”
Aside from the blatant fact that Sessions' statement is clearly a misapplication of this verse, it’s also an alarming example of how racism can be cloaked under a mask of spirituality and civil legislation. Racism in all of its facets – implicit, explicit, systemic, political, tinged with religiosity – is a cancer that is stealthily unraveling the fabric of society and sowing seeds of discord within the Body of Christ.
Back to the Future
Over the years, it has become common for politicians to misapply the Bible in their attempt to subvert its truth in order further their own agendas. The current administration feels like a shadow empire of the Nazi regime from 1940's Germany. Its rhetoric plays on emotions and fears, while empowering the status quo establishment. In early August, the Anne Frank Centre for Mutual Respect warned of "alarming parallels" between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, likening his policies to the "escalating steps of oppression" that seeded the Holocaust. Through the inflammatory black magic of Nationalism (which is not to be confused with patriotism), Trump is fanning the flames of bigotry, propaganda, and misinformation. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are crawling out of the shadows. In similar fashion, Hitler scapegoated the Jewish community, along with other groups, as the cause of Germany's problems.
It's important that we understand that morality and ethics are not necessarily defined by the Democratic or Republican parties. The importance of justice and human dignity and respect are found in both the teachings of Jesus and the idealism of America's Constitution. Political debate will never solve this country's problems. The solution lies in building communities of faith that are actively involved in countering hatred through abounding love. We need to act as the hands of our Lord, representing His character to an ever-struggling world.
Misquoting Scripture: Fake News
Perhaps no other scripture text has been as misunderstood, misquoted, and misapplied as Romans 13:1-5. It has been quoted by Calvinists and Nazi sympathizers, segregationists and complementarians, and even colonial chauvinists who opposed the American Revolution. There’s a great deal of danger that exists in misinterpreting Scripture. When we use the Bible to excuse injustice or sin, we are undermining the central tenet of Christianity — to "love thy neighbor as thyself." (Mark 12:31 KJV)
Sadly, God’s love letter to us has often been misused to condone many evils throughout the sands of time, ranging from the Spanish Inquisition to Colonialism, slavery and even animal cruelty. The Bible is an effective voice, and the powers that be know it. This is why men of political power have a fixation for twisting its words to promote their own agendas.
Isn't it strange that the very administration that is always accusing media outlets of "fake news" would misrepresent the Bible message to justify the miscarriage of justice? The first Biblical record of fake news is found in Genesis, when the Serpent deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in Eden. It didn’t end there. In the wilderness, the Devil misquoted scripture to Jesus in three of the recorded temptations. When people like Jeff Sessions or Press Secretary Sarah Sanders misapply the Bible, it gives the false impression that nationalistic rhetoric and unjust policies are the Lord's work. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
Mankind established borders. God instituted family. The family construct knows no borders. In Christ, everyone is welcomed at the Lord's Table of adoption, affirmation, redemption, and acceptance. (Matthew 22:9 NIV) The family institution is a sacred reflection of the Heavenly Trinity. Father, Child and Mother are archetypes of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To separate children from their parents is sinful, malicious, and sacrilegious.
To Law or Not to Law?
"Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10 NIV)
Let’s be clear: the rule of law matters. Our faith is rooted in God's decalogue, The Ten Commandments. Our country is rooted in the Constitution, a bedrock of truth, justice, and order. As citizens of America and disciples of Jesus, we must obey these laws. They bring a sense of order, protect those in need, and prevent theft, crime, and the pitfalls of anarchy. However, when the laws of any nation conflict with God's moral law, when legislation clashes with Heaven's mandate of compassion, when mercy is strangled and human dignity is violated, we as Believers must decry them.
Saint Paul's passage in Romans 13 is about observing civic rules, but Paul's epistles also examine how God's moral law supersedes man's laws, especially in terms of the ethical and empathetic treatment of both human and animal life. Our conscience informs us as to when something is immoral or inhumane. This is how God communicates with humanity. It’s the reason we feel outrage when we witness injustice. God seeks to call us to righteous action through the conviction of our conscience. Indifference to the plight of our brothers and sisters of any race or creed is sinful.
For the Believer, the law-keeping standard of our conduct is Jesus who, by His life, exemplified that there is to be a balance maintained between enforcing laws and compassionate care for the "least of these." (Matthew 25:40 KJV) Christ instructs us to love God and our neighbor.
Salt of the Earth
It seems to be the new normal in today’s polarized world that such controversial figures as Donald Trump or Jeff Sessions are cheered or lamented according to one’s ideological orbit. Public figures who transcend political, racial, and cultural divides are a dying breed, and those who united us in the past are reconfigured to become more palatable to current discordant views.
This leads us to the main thrust of this piece. In the wake of Jeff Sessions misapplication of Romans 13, many are asking themselves, "is this what Christianity looks like?" The answer is a resounding no. Jesus isn't racist. God does not endorse racial profiling. The Savior of the world would never lock children in cages or separate them from their mothers. Our Lord is the friend of children. "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 19:14 ESV)
In fact, God has a solemn warning regarding actions like those of the Trump administration: "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones... it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea." (Mark 9:42 KJV) When we see injustice being doled out to anyone, as Christ-followers we should take a valiant stand against it. This is an aspect of what it means for believers to be "Salt of the Earth."
By virtue of its very nature, salt is a preservative and it helps to make the taste of food palatable. In this way, we are called to preserve the attributes of righteousness, goodness, integrity, justice, truth, equality, and love on Earth. The Bible has a pretty strong statement to make in regards to how refugees and immigrants are treated, "'Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows" Deuteronomy 27:19 NLT.
We should seek a sense of unity with our brothers and sisters of all creeds, races, and ethnicities. Often we seek to separate ourselves from the rest of humanity, sometimes citing 2 Corinthians 6:17 as the basis for this isolation. But again, this is a misappropriation of Scripture. When God says "Come out from among them and be separate,’ the command is for us to reform our belief system. It has nothing to do with physical or emotional isolation from the rest of humanity and Christendom.
As co-laborers with God, we were set apart for the purpose of evangelizing the world with the gospel. It’s this same gospel that unites us all as family within the Body of Christ. "Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13 NIV) In fact, Christ Himself shunned the hypocrites of His time and instead chose to befriend sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. (Luke 15:2) Given their attitude towards the recent events in our country, many of today's Republicans and Evangelicals could be compared to the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus's day. Drawing from this parallel, one could deduce that if He physically walked the earth today, Christ would most likely spend more time with the so-called sinners and less with the extreme right.
It’s a Love Thing
In closing, I'd like to remind readers that as a body of Believers, our faith is a love thing.
We must separate God's law of love from the idolatry of the law of manmade legalism. If you miss the clarity of St. Paul, look to a higher source and ask yourself what would Jesus do? Jesus always condemned the sin of legalism. Legalists can quote, pound, and thump the Bible, while being ignorant of the spirit of the Law which transforms the soul and conscience to be kind, merciful, hospitable, and charitable.
Saint Paul was a man who possessed a great love for God and humanity. Despite the reality that Romans 13 has a long history of being twisted to support evil policies, the passage is quite contrary to the propaganda of political rogues. As we step beyond Romans 13:1-5 and move farther down, we discover that St. Paul agrees, it's definitely all about love, love, and more love.
As we come together to disseminate the gospel in answer to the great commission of Matthew 28:16-20, let us prayerfully strive to keep all of our actions, words, and motives seasoned with the salt of God's unconditional love. Let's celebrate our God-given diversity by uniting around the one thing we have in common: Jesus Christ and His endless grace.
"Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV