Jun 25, 2018

Using the Bible to justify America's separation of families was 'abhorrent'

By Rev. John Pentland

The Bible can be a dangerous weapon or an invaluable resource. The Bible is not a rule book. It is an expression of people’s relationship with what they understand God to be.

It invites us to consider how we relate to others, and indeed all of creation. The perspective changes over time and it has relevance today.

Sadly, the Bible is misused to inspire and justify acts of violence and persecution, from slavery to Apartheid and other segregationalist politics. The Bible can also call us to reconciliation, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, and love for all.

Recently, American Attorney General Jeff Sessions used scripture to support a policy that allowed for the separation of children from their parents when trying to cross the Mexico-U.S. border.

More than 2,000 children were taken from their parents. This is a complete misuse of scripture. Sessions quotes Paul’s letter to the Romans, saying: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Roman’s 13, to obey the laws of government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

This quoting of scripture was meant to both establish an authority beyond Session’s own, and then to intimidate and discourage people from illegal border crossing. As a person of faith, I strongly urge the humane and compassionate treatment of people everywhere, including those seeking refuge.

Sadly, Sessions cut short a strong voice of scripture. Had he read a few lines further, he would have read, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Is it loving to separate children from parents and inflict the intense trauma that such separation instills?

Again, had Sessions read a bit further in Romans, he would also see that God calls people to “do no harm to the neighbour and to love one another.”

If Sessions looks at the totality and overarching theme of the Bible, hospitality is held as the greatest of virtues.

Compassionate treatment of the stranger and concern for the least was Jesus’s main commandment crystalized in the phrase, “Love the Lord your God, with heart, soul and mind, your neighbour as oneself. On this rests all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 23:37)

Similarly, in the final judgment passage in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, in prison and you visited me.”

He concludes, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.”(Matt 25)

Let’s not forget that Jesus was a refugee. At birth, his parents fled a ferocious leader who had similar fears of the stranger. To be honest, I would be cautious about attributing God’s ordination on any government or policy. This is one of the challenges in taking the Bible or any other sacred scripture literally.

If we were to take the Bible literally, we would be stoning rebellious teenagers (Exodus 21:7), football would be a sin causing death (Leviticus 11:7) and people wearing two kinds of clothing material would be stoned. (Deuteronomy 22:11)

Thankfully, this in not the approach we observe. The call to be concerned for others is central to a way of life Jesus called people to live. Indeed, this is central to all the world religions.

Jeff Sessions’ call to separate children from parents was an act of violence against refugees that will have long-lasting effects.

Yes, we need proper administration, attention and process in a complex situation such as immigration. We cannot be naïve about this aspect of any country’s dealing with its borders. But it must always be compassionate and generous in hospitality. Most people do not flee their homes without good cause.

For me, the main ethic of compassion, liberation and justice for all people is central to faithfulness. Using separation as a deterrent is wrong. Using religion to justify this practice is offensive and abhorrent.

We are living in challenging days and we need not perpetuate the fear, hatred and violence as we solve our problems.

I wonder if we are being called to a deeper calling to pause and understand the anger, resentment and hatred that seems to be the underbelly of much we see in our world today. Calm, rational and compassionate approaches require patience and loving perspectives.

As Canadians, we need to speak out through our elected representatives to ensure our voice is heard. Our silence is complicity.

Rev. John Pentland is minister at Hillhurst United Church.