Move over, Two Corinthians.
There's a new Bible reference making lots of headlines: Romans 13.
Who knew that Donald Trump and his administration would bring such attention to Scriptures?
In case you somehow missed this controversy, here are the basic details via The Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible on Thursday in his defense of his border policy that is resulting in hundreds of immigrant children being separated from their parents after they enter the U.S. illegally.
Sessions, speaking in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on immigration, pushed back against criticism he had received over the policy. On Wednesday, a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church said that separating mothers from their babies was “immoral.”
Sessions said many of the recent criticisms were not “fair or logical and some are contrary to law.”
“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,” he said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."
Sessions' remarks — coupled with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' declaration that "it is very biblical to enforce the law" — have sparked a wave of press attention exploring the meaning and history of Romans 13.
For those interested in insightful, enlightening coverage, here are six can't-miss links:
Religion News Service's Emily McFarlan Miller and Yonat Shimron (with help from Jack Jenkins) explain what Romans 13 says, why Sessions is quoting it, how Christians feel about his exegesis and how Romans 13 has been used historically. They also delve into the question of whether Sessions’ use of the passage matches its original context.
Jenkins, meanwhile, offered a Twitter thread on faith groups' responses to the Trump administration's policies and Sessions' citing of Romans 13 that has been shared thousands of times:
USA Today picked up the RNS 'Splainer, so it is receiving extra attention. Note to USA Today: "Bible" probably should be capitalized in your headline.
Also offering a helpful listicle approach is CNN religion editor Daniel Burke, who notes that "1. The Bible is full of civil disobedience" and "2. Paul thought Roman spies were reading his letters," among five observations attributed to various scholars.
Facts & Trends senior writer Bob Smietana reports on how curiosity about Romans 13 lit up social media:
The Bible was the top trending topic on Twitter for three hours Thursday evening, from about 6-9 p.m. Central, according to Trends24.in.
Romans 13 was the most popular Bible verse on Twitter for a few hours as well.
Meanwhile Bible Gateway, one of the most popular online Bible sites, experienced a spike in traffic.
Searches for keywords like Romans 13, child, and family were “three times higher yesterday (June 14) than they normally are,” said Jonathan Peterson, marketing manager for Bible Gateway.
Dakota Crawford of the Indianapolis Star (in a story also picked up by Gannett flagship USA Today) noted that Sessions also is a Sunday school teacher at a United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Then she did something else that impressed me. She quoted from the version of the Bible most associated with United Methodists:
The first three verses of Romans 13 in the Common English Bible, traditionally used by the United Methodist Church, read:
1 Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God.
2 So anyone who opposes the authority is standing against what God has established. People who take this kind of stand will get punished.
3 The authorities don’t frighten people who are doing the right thing. Rather, they frighten people who are doing wrong. Would you rather not be afraid of authority? Do what’s right, and you will receive its approval.
Sarah Smith, an investigative reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, suddenly is doing overtime on the religion beat. First, she covered developments involving Paige Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Now, she tackles the Romans 13 question and does so with some nice nuance:
Amy Joy Ickes, a nondenominational Christian Bible teacher living in San Antonio, said Sessions broke the first rule of Bible study: He took a verse out of its context.
“You can literally make the Bible say anything you want it to say by pulling out the right verses,” she said. “That’s the difficult part of the Bible but also, from Satan’s side of it, the beauty of the Bible.”
Romans 13, she said, comes after a chapter in which the Apostle Paul tells Christians how to live as Christians. He tells of the gifts Christians have been given and how to build up the church and the body of Christ, Ickes said, and how to live with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Then in Romans 13, she said, Paul discusses how to live in a city under the rule of government. That rule of government comes second to God’s law. The verse Sessions cited instructs people to obey the ruler God put over them (and theological debates occur over whether God has chosen rulers or whether he allows rulers in office).
“Really, Paul’s point is: ‘OK, wherever you’re living, you’re there for a reason,” Ickes said. “And as followers of Christ, you set the examples in how you obey the law and uphold the law.”
But God’s law, Ickes said, is paramount. “And so the question we ask is: What is God’s law?” she said. “All the way through the Bible, God’s law is justice for the oppressed.”
Washington Post religion writer Julie Zauzmer and a colleague provide historical context on Romans 13's use in the past, noting:
Government officials occasionally refer to the Bible as a line of argument — take, for instance, the Republicans who have quoted 2 Thessalonians (“if a man will not work, he shall not eat”) to justify more stringent food stamps requirements.
But the verse that Sessions cited, Romans 13, is an unusual choice.
“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 other, Fea said, “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. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”
This last one may or may not be satire.
OK, it is satire.