Reading Romans 13
The upside of Attorney General Jeff Sessions using Paul’s Letter to the Romans to defend the administration’s policy of family separation at the border was that people might go read the Bible for a moment. Or so was my prayer. He and others were quoting Romans 13 to emphasize the need for people to obey laws. Of course, there were many things wrong with this, not the least being Jeff Sessions himself could probably think of some laws he isn’t as fond of. I think primarily of Roe v. Wade, imposed by the Supreme Court some four decades ago. It’s hard not to think of it for a number of reasons, including the fact that children being taken from their parents isn’t quite consistent with an administration waving a pro-life banner.
Now I know there were all kinds of frustrations — that the media was using Scripture as a battering ram, that the Obama administration had similar policies and there didn’t seem to be the same kind of outrage. None of that makes it right to continue. And none of it excuses the misuse of Scripture. The best thing about Romans 13 is to open it up and see how much love surrounds it.
Consider Romans 12:
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
Or, later in the chapter:
“Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality” (Rom 12:9-13).
Hospitality. Talk about missing the spirit of the Gospel.
Or deeper into Romans 13, St. Paul writes:
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. … ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:8-10).
And still further into 13:
“And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light. … [P]ut on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:11-12, 14).
In other words, there’s a lot more to the story than defense of a cruel policy. A number of Christian leaders, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, addressed this, calling the policy inhumane, making a common good case accessible to us all.
Among the most infuriating things about it, and typically conservative pro-life types defending it, was that opposing it would make for further credibility and clarity on all kinds of matters pro-life. While not everyone is with us on abortion, largely out of humane concerns (that a woman in a tough spot has choices), moments like this could be opportunities for people of good will to realize that our love for the unborn is about love for humanity, because we see all life as precious and made in the image of God. We also believe the family to be a sacred thing, to be preserved and protected whenever possible.
Most of us could afford to meditate on the Word more. And realize that it is full of challenges for us in our personal and civic lives. Besides reversing some cruelty, perhaps the recent mention of Romans could accomplish this, too.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).