“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” – Romans 13:1-2
How do we reconcile Romans 13 with speaking out on Immigration policy that differs from current law or what the government proposes? How can we be “subject to the governing authorities” while also calling for our government to behave differently than it has when we believe it to be wrong? And, how can we affirm the role of the government in providing an orderly society and secure borders while fulfilling the prophetic role of the church in speaking and working on behalf of the vulnerable, for children and families, and for the poor? I think it can all be done.
The recent SBC 2018 Resolution #5 On Immigration gives us an opportunity to consider this question and consider how we can fulfill both perspectives. After thoroughly explaining God’s commands regarding human dignity and how immigrants are to be treated from Scripture, Resolution #5 shifts into some direct statements. A couple of them:
RESOLVED, That we desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families …
RESOLVED, That we encourage all elected officials, especially those who are members of Southern Baptist churches, to do everything in their power to advocate for a just and equitable immigration system, those in the professional community to seek ways to administer just and compassionate care for the immigrants in their community, and our Southern Baptist entities to provide resources that will equip and empower churches and church members to reach and serve immigrant communities;
Read the rest of this resolution. It is important.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, last week, appealed to Romans 13 when he spoke to his “church friends” and he encouraged us to stand down in our criticism. This was two days after Resolution #5 On Immigration passed. Catholic Bishops also spoke against the practice of family separation, as did many other denominations and Christian groups. It is not out of bounds to think that he was speaking to us.
How does the church approach the government when we believe it to be in error? Let’s consider some examples.
Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Legalized abortion has been the law of the land ever since. Is it wrong for Christians to oppose this? To call for a change in our abortion laws?
Race-based Slavery was legal. It was the law of the land written into the Constitution via the Enumeration Clause, or the 3/5 compromise, and the Fugitive Slave Clause, which required that escaped slaves to one state be returned to their owners in their state of origin. Slavery was affirmed and written into the Constitution. Was it wrong to oppose this, even after it was written in?
Indian Removal was legal. Jim Crow Segregation was legal. Japanese Internment was legal. Women did not receive the right to vote until 1920. We can go on and one with one law after another that was opposed, advocated against, and ultimately changed. We even see apologies taking place over past wrong laws. Should Christians ever speak out against unjust laws?
People like Jeff Sessions and Robert Jeffress who use Romans 13 wrongly, would invoke it against the act of simple criticism or the expression of a different opinion on immigration law. While immigrants are subject to the laws of the land, U.S. citizens surely have the right to speak about those laws and policies and call for them to be changed according to Biblical convictions. It is right and just to ask that consideration be made regarding the priority of family unity in the midst of securing our border.
The reality is that the church has every right to speak to the government about the law and how the law is being carried out. We have both the right and responsibility to advocate for better laws, for more just laws, and to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. Proverbs 31:8-9 says,
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
We are in a False Romans 13 moment when the church is being told by the Attorney General and certain pastors that the law is the law and it has to be followed and there is nothing that can be done. And, that law requires that desperate families be split up. That is wrong. This is not an empire or a monarchy. We live in a democratic republic. We are not subject to a Caesar or an Emperor or King. Our government is different. “We the people.” We can speak from a Biblical perspective on behalf of people. We can ask that people be treated fairly, humanely, and that children stay with their parents as their asylum claims are worked through. It is right and just for us to ask that laws be improved and that people be treated in a more Biblical fashion than is currently happening.
Yes, we are told to submit to the governing authorities, but our governing authority is not a man – not permanently. In America, it is the Constitution and that rule of law also calls us to participate and to speak and to take part in our own governance. If anyone were calling for the breaking of the law, that would be inappropriate. But, calling for laws and policies to be changed to better care for the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, and the sojourner is right, just, and the Biblical thing to do. It is also what our government asks us to do through our governing processes. We aren’t to try and control things as this is not a theocracy. But, we are to influence and WITNESS the reality of the Kingdom of God to the nations of the earth.
Ultimately, we have a higher authority than Attorney General Sessions, President Trump, or the Constitution. Our higher authority is God and His Word and He places us here as His Church to represent and witness to the truth and reality of His Kingdom breaking in through the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, who is reconciling all things to Himself. That life is manifested most clearly in the church, but the light of Christ is to shine upon the larger world as well through us proclaiming the Better Way of Jesus wherever we go. Because of the kind of government we have, we have the right and responsibility to speak and to say that actions of the government are sometimes wrong and to call for righteous and just responses toward the afflicted, the poor, and the needy while we model sacrificial love and those righteous responses through our ministries and personal lives.
Ultimately, I believe that the collective voice of the church in America made a difference as Trump seemed to reversed course today under pressure when he issued an Executive Order to keep migrant families together pending their hearings. That is a good first step to solve a problem that should not have existed in the first place. We’ll see how this situation unfolds and I hope that the church continues to speak on behalf of vulnerable, needy sojourners.
Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.