By Bishop José García
In recent days, many people including top government officials have quoted the Bible to justify the cruel, callous, and heartless enforcement of separating immigrant children from their parents when they enter the United States.
These families are often seeking asylum after escaping hunger, poverty, violence, and corruption in their home countries.
The argument is that the parents of these children are violating the law and that the United States is a country of law and order. They quote biblical admonitions concerning the Christian duty to submit and abide by the laws of the land.
Quoting Romans 13 and other Scriptures that call on Christians to submit to the laws of the land is a text out of context used as a pretext for unrighteousness. This point of view ignores that there is a greater law, that of loving God above all things, and loving our neighbors and ourselves.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). This means that loving our neighbor as Christ loves us requires that we abide by all the instructions God has given concerning welcoming, showing hospitality, and caring for the stranger (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; Hebrews 13:2; Leviticus 19:33,34; Matthew 25:35; Zechariah 7:10). Our faith compels us to acts of charity, compassion, service, and advocacy – seeking for our neighbor, the stranger, the well-being, opportunities, and privileges that we enjoy.
God calls those in authority to do what is just and right: “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).
God holds those in authority to a higher standard that requires them to “judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him” (Deuteronomy 1:16). In fact, it has strong admonitions against those who do not judge righteously: “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner…” and “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees” (Deuteronomy 27:19; Isaiah 10:1).
Not all of the laws of the land are good laws. Our nation has enacted laws that enabled breaking treaties and taking land from Native Americans, supporting slavery, preventing interracial marriage, denying women and African Americans the right to vote, and discriminating against Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and Mexicans.
History has proven that all these laws were bad laws, proving what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Bible and history share countless stories of martyrs that defied and broke bad laws and decrees for the sake of advancing the Gospel, or doing what is just and right to protect those who suffered persecution from evil empires, police states, corrupt governments etc.
Separating families and treating people fleeing fragile states, hunger, and poverty does not reflect the great commandment, which calls on all to love one another, because love is from God.
Bishop José García is the senior advisor for prayer and strategic initiatives at Bread for the World.