Twisted Scrip­ture

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell. wanger­[email protected]­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

I don’t know about any­one else but when I hear a se­nior Amer­i­can of­fi­cial quot­ing Scrip­ture to jus­tify sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their par­ents and lock­ing them up in de­ten­tion camps, I get more than a lit­tle ner­vous.

But that’s what U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions did last week, say­ing, “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.”

Ques­tioned about the state­ment, White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders echoed the ap­proach.

“I can say it is very bib­li­cal to en­force the law,” said San­ders, adding, “that is re­peated a num­ber of times in the Bi­ble.”

Of course, the Bi­ble is a very big book. Not long af­ter Ses­sions’ com­ments, so­cial me­dia was light­ing up with this quote from Isiah 10-1-2: “Woe to those who make un­just laws, to those who is­sue op­pres­sive de­crees, to de­prive the poor of their rights and with­hold jus­tice from the op­pressed of my peo­ple.”

Oth­ers were point­ing out, some­what ominously, that Ro­mans 13 has cropped up in U.S. pol­i­tics be­fore — when, for years, that verse was used to jus­tify the con­tin­u­a­tion of slav­ery. Oth­ers have pointed out the use of Ro­mans 13 as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for apartheid, and sug­gest that Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin both leaned on it to gain sup­port for their ad­min­is­tra­tions.

What makes it all the more bizarre is that Ses­sions would use such a re­li­gious jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in a coun­try where the con­sti­tu­tion ac­tu­ally es­tab­lishes a clear sep­a­ra­tion be­tween church and state.

While the First Amend­ment of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion ba­si­cally pre­vents the govern­ment from in­ter­ven­ing in re­li­gion, the law has been read by the courts to reach in the other di­rec­tion as well.

In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court es­tab­lished a test to ex­am­ine whether a pro­posed law vi­o­lated the First Amend­ment: “First, the statute must have a sec­u­lar leg­isla­tive pur­pose; sec­ond, its prin­ci­pal or pri­mary ef­fect must be one that nei­ther ad­vances nor in­hibits re­li­gion; fi­nally, the statute must not foster an ex­ces­sive govern­ment en­tan­gle­ment with re­li­gion.”

Re­li­gion and gov­er­nance have dif­fer­ent ends; re­li­gions, even in­clu­sive ones, fol­low rules for those who are in­side the faith.

Gov­ern­ments set so­cial direc­tions for everyone, not just for those who be­long to a par­tic­u­lar sect or faith. In­ter­twin­ing the two doesn’t have a his­tory of mak­ing gov­ern­ments bet­ter. In fact, it has let gov­ern­ments se­lect choice pieces of re­li­gious teach­ing to jus­tify ac­tions that could not oth­er­wise be jus­ti­fied.

In­stead of be­ing an­swer­able for their ac­tions, those who make de­ci­sions merely claim they are led by a higher law — a higher law that they seem to have ab­so­lutely no com­punc­tions about in­ter­pret­ing pre­cisely in their own favour.

Why, for ex­am­ple, would Ses­sions choose Ro­mans 13, when he could have ref­er­enced Ex­o­dus 22? “You shall not wrong a stranger or op­press him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not af­flict any widow or or­phan. If you af­flict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kin­dled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall be­come wid­ows and your chil­dren fa­ther­less.”

The an­swer is sim­ple: Ex­o­dus 22 didn’t jus­tify his par­tic­u­lar ends.

It’s of­ten said that, “Pa­tri­o­tism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Twist­ing Scrip­ture to jus­tify your own po­lit­i­cal ends?

Let’s just say it’s not the last refuge of the godly. Quite the op­po­site, in fact.

And when lead­ers cite re­li­gious texts, it’s most of­ten be­cause they see them­selves of be­ing above the laws of mere mor­tals.

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