Jeff Sessions and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders perhaps indulged in a bit of both Thursday, when asked about the moral reasoning behind separating migrant parents from their children at the U.S. border.
Sessions argued that, as criminals, immigrants have put themselves beyond the protection of God’s care. “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,” Sessions explained by way of scriptural warrant. He added that “orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves . . . [and protect] the weak and lawful.” Sanders later offered an artful gloss in defense of Sessions: “It is very biblical to enforce the law,” she said.
.. In Christianity as billions of faithful have known it, order and lawful procedures are not “good in themselves” and it is not “very biblical” to “enforce the law” whatever it might be. Rather, there is a natural order inscribed into nature. Human governance can comport with it or contradict it, meaning Christians are sometimes morally obligated to follow civil laws and are sometimes morally obligated not to.
.. Conservatives seize on this approach when it suits them; this is why they’re so keen on carving out legal protections for matters of religious conscience.
.. But there are worse things than confusion, or even than hypocrisy. One of them is self-deception. When Sessions invoked Romans 13 — a verse infamous for earlier bad-faith invocations to justify slavery — he shifted the subject of the question from himself and his own department to those under his control.
.. He was summoned to defend his choices, his judgment, his own moral reasoning — but instead offered a condemnation of the decisions and morality of migrants.
He wanted to talk about what, in his view, the Bible demands of the ruled. But he omitted the more important question: What does it demand of rulers?
.. From Deuteronomy 10 : “For the Lord your God . . . loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Or from Jeremiah 7: “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place . . . then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.”