When I was studying to become a pastor at United Theological Seminary, in more than one class, I remember the instructors cautioning us as pastors to be careful how we use Scripture to support an idea or opinion as we present God’s Word to our members and community.
Normally when I write Pastor’s Notes to you in our newsletters I tried to make them informative and upbeat so that as we continue to engage each other and community as we present the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as positive and influential in the ways we live our lives thus encouraging others to walk a closer journey with God.
I am not trying to take political sides but recently the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, reminded me and others of what our theological school professors continually reminded us of: how to and not to use a single verse from Scripture to defend what we say and do. When we use a single verse, it can easily be taken out of context and misused in an attempt to support what we say or do. But, to do this is an inappropriate way for the use of Scripture. When we use a single verse and do not take into consideration the complete context from which it was taken, we could misuse or misappropriate its meaning.
“Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There is not any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God” (Romans 13:1). This single verse was used to justify and defend the policy of separating immigrant children from their families. Now this use of Romans 13:1 was not the first attempt to justify how the government or administrative authorities have the right to do whatever they want. Throughout history there have been times when governments have used Romans 13:1 to defend their actions as, “Sanctioning governments as instruments of God and coerce people into obedience”. During the American Revolution slaveholders used this verse to promote slavery. In our early times advocates for the death penalty used it to defend capital punishment. When we look at Romans and the chapters and verses that surround Romans 13:1, what we see from chapters 12 and 13, they tell us that we are to abhor evil and do good, to practice hospitality, to be at peace, to overcome evil with good, to love our neighbors and to lay aside immoral actions.
When we look for other Scripture to justify the separation of children from parents we find very little in Scripture that would promote such practices. The opposite can be supported by an accumulation of a number of other Scriptures that would support that families should and must be kept together. When we use a verse in Scripture it must be supported by other Scripture verses as we work to interpret what the Bible says to us, and in this case, we should look at Zachariah 7:9 – 10 “Make just and fateful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; do not plan evil against each other!” Proverbs 31:8 – 9 says, “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” Jeremiah 22:3 “The Lord proclaims: do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Do not exploit or miss treat the refugee, the orphan and the widow. Do not spill the blood of the innocent in this place.” We can go on and find other Scripture such as Isaiah 58:6 – 7 or Leviticus 19:33 – 34 and yes, the list could go on and on as we search for how God would want us to use Scripture, in this case as we advocate for the love of our sisters and brothers and yes, the little children.
I am proud that many within the United Methodist Church and many within our denomination have taken a stance to support the care, respect and loving treatment of all of God’s children. I want to thank and acknowledge the United Methodist Agency On Justice for Neighbors, the United Methodist Counsel of Bishops, the United Methodist Women and so many other United Methodists who have spoken against the separation of families recently and against this in the future; also, Professor Magrey deVega who researched and presented the correct way to read and use Biblical Scripture in this matter.