Jeff Sessions and Romans 13: A brief Bible study

Goodness knows, Britain is in no position to throw stones when it comes to the treatment of migrant children. Apart from the ones we shipped off to the colonies after the war, in theory for a better life but in practice to grinding hard labour, neglect and abuse, there's the continuing scandal of an asylum system that involve vulnerable people, including children, being forced to live in unimaginably squalid conditions. A hostile environment, for sure.

But no one's tried to say, on this side of the Atlantic, that it's God's will.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions used the Bible to justify migrant policy.Reuters

That, of course, is what Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said of the policy of separating would-be migrant parents from their children at the Mexico border. Extraordinary revelations have emerged about the scale of this enterprise, which has seen around 1,500 children housed in a converted Wal-Mart. Breastfeeding babies are being taken from their mothers. Parents are being told their children are being taken for baths, and they just aren't returned. There's open dissent between Trump's White House and congressional Republicans, who can see how terrible this looks for a supposedly family-friendly party.

And yet, according to Sessions, it's biblical. 'Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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 said.

And White House press secretary doubled down when she was pressed on the issue, saying it was 'very biblical to enforce the law'.

So, for the avoidance of doubt: whatever Sessions' legal expertise, no one should regard him as a reliable guide to the Bible.

Every country needs an immigration policy, and it will not find it in the Bible. But neither should it look to the Bible for a carte-blanche justification of anything a government decides to do. Generally, what Paul says in Romans 13:1 is true; authorities are to be obeyed. But there are times when they aren't, as Americans – whose country was founded in bloody revolution – understand very well. Sometimes governments do terrible things. They lie and oppress. They are corrupt and immoral. Sometimes, even, they just get things wrong, for the best possible motives.

When that happens, the response is not to be sheep-like docility. It is to be resistence, protest and civil disobedience, from Christians especially – most of whom will have read a little further in Romans 13, as far as verse 10, which says, 'Love does no harm to its neighbour.'

To see a senior government official using the Bible to justify a clearly iniquitous policy is deeply uncomfortable. It plays into a narrative that's increasingly been a feature of the Trump administration – that Christians have been bought with the promise of power. Now it's payback time: Christians thought they could use the government, and the government is nakedly and unashamedly using them. As Jesus says in the parable of the dishonest steward: 'the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light' (Luke 16:8).

In other words, the smart politicians are just better at this stuff than we are. Don't think you can beat them at their own game; they'll win every time. 

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods