Walker Chapel UMC

Sanctuary Open for Prayer: Sunday, 9:00 am
Adult Study: Sunday, 9:30 am
Worship: Sunday, 10:30 am
Children's Sunday School: Sunday, 10:45 am



July 2018

Suggested reading: Romans 13:1-7

Like many Christians in the United States and around the world, I was appalled last month when I heard Attorney General Jeff Sessions cite the apostle Paul in defense of a border policy that has resulted in hundreds of immigrant children being separated from their parents after they entered the United States. I don’t fault Sessions for trying to relate his faith to public policy; that’s a responsibility we all have as Christians. I do wish, though, that he would take the time to better understand Paul. Perhaps he should join our Walker Chapel Book Club! We just happen to be currently reading a biography of Paul by N. T. Wright. Mr. Sessions would be most welcome. I’m sure we would have many lively discussions.

But it’s not my intent merely to chastise the Attorney General. I would also recommend an article by Margaret Mitchell, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School, composed in response to Sessions’ comments. You can find it online at https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/apostle-and-ag. I’ll also print a copy and post it on the the bulletin board outside the church office for those who might prefer to read it that way. Among the main points Mitchell made were the following.

First, she noted the “insightful commentary” that soon attended Sessions’ remarks, including those that focused on the long history of using Romans 13 in the United States on multiple sides of contested issues, such as the Revolutionary War and debates on slavery. It would seem that Paul’s “clear and wise command,” as Sessions put it, has been nonetheless variously interpreted throughout the centuries.

Second, one cannot fully appreciate what Paul meant by people subjecting themselves to the governing authorities in Romans 13:1 without also taking adequately into account Romans 13:8-14. To cite the one without the other simply will not do. It’s not only tantamount to Thomas Jefferson taking scissors to the Bible and leaving only the “bits” he liked, it also ignores Paul’s purpose for writing to the Christians in Rome in the first place. For Paul, only the law of love is supreme. Period. In this sense, Romans 13 is much like 1 Corinthian 13, which, as you remember, concludes with those most Pauline of words, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” When citing scripture for any reason, context is everything. Paul’s mostly talking about the law of love, not the law of the land.

Third, Mitchell questioned whether Romans 13:1-7 is even about obedience to “the government” at all and cited the long history of that passage’s translation. Only one translation, the Common English Bible (2011), she noted, says people should “put themselves under the authority of the government” and she considers that a poor translation. Most all other standard translations have tended instead to follow the King James Version (1611): “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” That may seem like small potatoes, but not when you think about how the highest power of all is God and not any temporal authority.

Fourth, Sessions, in his statement, perhaps all too conveniently overlooked the fact that the same “powers” that put the present administration in place presumably also put the preceding administration in place as well as all those that preceded it. As Mitchell put it, “But if the apostle’s ‘clear and wise’ message is that ‘the powers that be are set in place by God’s command,’ then Sessions’ own position is undermined, since President Obama himself would also have been an authority ‘commanded by God,’ whose decision is to be obeyed.”

Again, my purpose has not been to heap more burning coals on Jeff Sessions’ head. He’s our Attorney General and a brother in Christ. He’s even a fellow United Methodist! So, of course, I pray that he may yet have a change of heart and mind.  Nonetheless, I do and must take issue with what I deem in this case to have been a wrong and reckless use of scripture to defend what is an indefensible policy of the current administration. We must all strive to do and be better.

Yours in Christ,