As if there were not enough angst going on in this country to divide public opinion and set people on opposing sides, we are now in the midst of a massive controversy over the way children and young teenagers are being treated on arrival at the US Southern border with their parents seeking asylum.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the government, through the office of the Attorney General, has carefully researched its position about the legality of the action it is demanding of those men and women who are tasked with protecting the country from those wishing to enter illegally. However, just because something may be legal in some circumstances, doesn’t mean that the action being taken of forcibly removing children from their parents is moral in a country that claims to lead the world. Of course, we want a criminal justice system that protects a child from harm by an abusive parent, or an adult who has committed a criminal act that harms or endangers the child. But to use powers that are designed to protect in a way that inflicts needless emotional pain and distress is itself child abuse.
In quoting a single verse from Romans 13 as a defense for the action of the government, Attorney General Sessions has brought severe criticism from all sides of the debate and not least the church. Jeff Sessions, as a member of the United Methodist Church, has taught a Sunday school class, led bible studies and attended his church as time permits. I, like many of my colleagues, and countless thousands of Methodists and other Christians, am deeply disappointed that such an educated man should seek to use a verse of the bible out of context in an attempt to justify this cruel behavior. Of course, this isn’t the first time this verse has been used to justify actions: slavery in the US, the Nazi regime in Germany, the rebellion and the uprising against the British government in the US which led to independence.
In the chapters which precede thirteen, Paul has been setting out a much bigger and more complex argument as to why the young church at that time, which among other things was suffering under Roman oppression in which Christians may be thrown to the lions in the arena just for sport, needed to accept that laws are laws. He echoes the charge that Jesus gives to those who would seek to trick him over taxes when he tells them to, “render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matt. 22:21). Yet, the fulfillment of the law is found by reading through to v10 of the thirteenth chapter of Romans. In verse 8 we read:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” And the section concludes with “whatever other commands 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.”
What is at question here is the motivation, or intent behind the actions being taken. With both sides of the house arguing that what is going on is at its best “simply wrong,” and at its worst “inhumane and degrading behavior,” which has echoes of concentration camps and autocratic dictatorship, something has to be done to change the present situation.
As Christians, we are called to love the stranger, and to welcome those from other countries, as this is the fulfillment of the law or commandment which is at the heart of all we do, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ As Methodists, we are called by John Wesley to first ‘do no harm or any kind of evil,’ and we are to follow that up with, ‘Do all the good and acts of mercy you can.’ I urge you to prayerfully consider how you might seek to influence a change of heart in those who seek to continue this awful situation.