Dear Mr. Attorney-General,
First of all, let me just say thanks. For thirty-seven years is a long time indeed to devote to public service, and I have a feeling that the last one and a half of those years have probably been the longest of them all. I once had a bishop who was a bit like your boss, in fact–unpredictable and at times somewhat mercurial, so I feel for the position you are in. (I often had the feeling that he wanted to fire me as well.)
But secondly, let me apologize too for what appears to have been a fairly bad level of theologizing on the part of the teachers and leaders whom you may have listened to over the years. For whoever taught you the Book of Romans appears to have done both you and the apostle Paul a great disservice. Your citation of the “clear and wise command” of St. Paul to justify the policy of separating detained children from their families when they are apprehended crossing the border illegally, for instance, was not simply flat-out wrong, but it was dangerously misguided as well.
To be sure, the first two verses of Romans 13 do teach us that everyone should be subject to the governing authorities, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Consequently, St. Paul goes on to tell us, “Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
But read on a few more verses in that chapter and you’ll see that Paul reminds us of the continuing debt to love one another and that love “does no harm to a neighbor.” And forgive me if I’m missing something here, but I’m having a hard time seeing how separating 1,500 children, including breastfeeding babies, from their parents and housing them in a converted Wal-Mart does anything but harm, particularly when their parents are told that their children are simply being taken for baths but then are never returned.
As legal as it may be, thus, there is something remarkably evil about this policy, and misusing the Bible to try to justify it makes it even worse. Adolph Hitler, the democratically elected ruler of Germany from 1933 to 1945, used the same passage from Romans, for example, to command “unconditional subjugation” to himself, leading folks like Barth and Bonhoeffer to eventually opt out to form a confessing church.
St. Paul was pretty clear, however, that while we are indeed called to submit to rulers if they are just in their ways, rulers likewise have the responsibility to make just ordinances and to promote righteousness. Even more to the point, we should notice that the same man who wrote Romans 13 was eventually executed by a crazy emperor when he wouldn’t conform to the immoral demands of that government but chose, in the words of his friend Peter, “to obey God rather than man.” (Acts 5.29).
I say all of this simply as a fellow Methodist, Mr. Attorney General, trying like you to follow John Wesley in our faith walk. But folks as far apart as the Catholic bishop in my neck of the woods, a great fellow named Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, have agreed, calling the separation policy “immoral” and “disgraceful” respectively.
Give Romans another read, thus, if you will. It might even help you rethink about what to do with battered women and victims of domestic abuse or gang violence when they come calling for asylum too. For as hard as it might be, who knows but that you, a little like Esther, may have come to your position “for such a time as this?”