Jesus was a child refugee.
His family arrived at Egypt's border without proper documents. Thankfully he was not taken from Mary + Joseph by the Egyptians. (Matthew 2:13)
It's 2018 and in America, the interpretation of Scripture is front page, national news.
This week the Bible was used by our Government to justify the separation of refugee families - stripping children from their parents at the border. First, the Bible is not our legal code and shouldn't matter in a U.S. policy debate. It does matter, unfortunately, because a large segment of our population *think* they are *just doing what the Bible says.* As someone who self-identifies as Christian (mostly) and a pastor (sort of), I feel it is my responsibility to challenge the unhealthy aspects of my tradition. This horrid and inhumane immigration policy is indefensible but, if one desires to coerce the Bible to defend their horrid actions, I have a few thoughts:
- People often use the Bible to justify their hate + evil - this is why interpreting the Bible requires discipline and discernment. This week AG Sessions appealed to Romans 13 as justification for enforcing his "zero tolerance" policy:
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God." - Romans 13:13
Like many others, Mr. Sessions selected the words he liked, the ones he felt validated his position, and ignored the rest. In this, Mr. Sessions joins a nefarious group of slavers, nazis and white supremacists who have historically employed the same passage for similar effect. In picking and choosing to support his agenda, Mr. Sessions missed a few important aspects of understanding the passage. Namely (1.) the author was jailed while writing and later executed by the Roman state for civil disobedience and (2.) the context of the verse quoted - a mere eight verses later we read:
"...the one who loves another has fulfilled the law... [all the commandments] are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." - Romans 13:8-10
On the subject of discernment, Mark 3 records Jesus suggesting a possible standard: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm... to save life or to kill?” This is relatively straightforward, and will help tremendously for people who desire to grow deeper discernment. A good companion is Luke 6 - another helpful verse for guiding the development of scriptural discernment: “Each tree is known by its own fruit...” In this case, if the fruit of a policy and administration is separating children from their parents, we can discern this is bad - very bad. The sort of bad we call evil.
For many, this sort of discernment and self-evaluation is absent from their faith practice, both individually and corporately. Unless we develop discernment, we lack a key mechanism for spiritual growth. For example, reflection and discernment are necessary if we want to learn to see God as more than an omnipotent projection of our personal ideals. Without them, violent and tribal people will always see God as a violent and tribal too. And worse, we are formed by the shape of what we worship - so when a violent and tribal people worship a violent and tribal God, they will become even more violent and tribal over time.
-*Important note* we often hide our God’s violence by either calling it something else (often “love” or sometimes “justice”) or by projecting the violence onto its victims (via classic scapegoating). Hiding God’s violence is the mechanism by which Christians can worship a *loving* God, while also making room for tribal and violent behavior by their tribe and their heroes.-
All this brings us back to why Biblical Interpretation is front page news in 2018 - For many American Christians, President Trump embodies the subconscious image of what they mean when they say *loving God* (i.e., a mighty, tribal warrior who is super tough and unrestricted and who lavishes blessings on those who please him). This is not a new phenomenon - Jesus was rejected by his religious community as weak and foolish 2000 years ago and is often set aside today by many "Christians" to make room for more powerful "gods."
"When what [Jesus] says contradicts our illusions, we ignore him."
-Rene Girard - 'I See Satan Fall Like Lightning'