Jeff Sessions cited a Bible passage used by American slaveholders to defend Trump’s family separation policy

It’s rarely been used since the Civil War.

By Emily Stewart, vox.com,

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration’s family separation policy for asylum seekers by invoking a controversial passage in the Bible that’s rarely been cited since the Civil War because it was used by Southerners to defend slavery.

This is what Sessions said at a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thursday, according to NBC News:

Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.

The historical context spread across Twitter. Yoni Appelbaum, a historian and editor at the Atlantic, showed the passage was cited during key moments in the American debate over slavery:

The Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer and Keith McMillan spoke with experts for a piece that ran Friday morning and concluded that Sessions’s decision to cite Romans 13 is an unusual one, given how the passage has been used historically.

“This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made,” John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told the Post.

Abolitionists argued that slavery was unconscionably cruel and pointed, specifically, to separating families as a violation of religious principles, Appelbaum explained. Slavery defenders said the duty to abide by law was part of the Bible and specifically cited Romans 13. Abolitionists, ultimately, won the argument over slavery.

Fea told the Post that after the Civil War, there haven’t been as many references to Romans 13 because the passage’s message about submitting to authority is regarded as un-American. “Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 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,” Fea said.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the same “the Bible says follow the law” argument on Thursday

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday was asked about Sessions’s invocation of the Bible to defend the administration’s family separation policy. She said she wasn’t “aware” of the attorney general’s specific comments but sided with him on the Bible part.

“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” Sanders said. “That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”

When CNN’s Jim Acosta asked whether she believes the practice is moral, Sanders replied, “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”

President Donald Trump in a surprise appearance on Fox & Friends on Friday defended the policy as well, but he didn’t mention the Bible. “That’s the law,” he said.

Family separation isn’t the law

The Trump administration has recently implemented a policy of separating children from their parents as they attempt to enter the United States seeking asylum at the US border. They’re typically splitting up families by charging parents with illegal entry into the US and sending them into criminal custody and treating their children as if they were “unaccompanied alien children” who had tried to enter the United States alone.

The policy has sent shock waves across the country, igniting outrage on the part of immigration advocates, human rights groups, and citizens across the political spectrum. Multiple reports of uniquely aggressive or inhumane treatment have added fuel to the fire, including a Honduran man who died by suicide less than a day after being separated from his wife and 3-year-old child by Border Patrol agents, and a Honduran woman who says officials took her daughter away while she was breastfeeding her in a detention center.

The White House is arguing that what it’s doing is just what the legal code says. “We’re a country of law and order, and we’re enforcing the law and protecting our borders,” Sanders said.

Except that’s not the case. As Vox’s Dara Lind points out, there is no law that requires immigrant families to be separated:

The decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry — and the decision to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum — are both decisions the Trump administration has made.

Other administration officials back up Trump by pointing to the laws that give extra protections to families, unaccompanied children, and asylum seekers. The administration has been asking Congress to change these laws since it came into office, and has blamed them for stopping Trump from securing the border the way he’d like. (Those aren’t “Democratic laws” either; the law addressing unaccompanied children was passed overwhelmingly in 2008 and signed by George W. Bush, while the restriction on detaining families is a result of federal litigation.)

In that context, the law isn’t forcing Trump to separate families; it’s keeping Trump from doing what he’d perhaps really like to do, which is simply sending families back or keeping them in detention together, and so he has had to resort to plan B.

Romans 13 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Submission to the Authorities

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law….