The Catholic Church has been one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases
The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, kicked up a storm when he invoked a line from the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s policy of separating thousands of parents and children during immigration investigations.
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad.
The problem for Sessions is that the historical situation in which Paul wrote his letter to the Romans does far more to undermine his policy than to support it.
The actual date and origin of the letter is not totally certain, but scholars think it was sent to the Christian community in Rome around 55AD. This was a few years after the Roman Emperor Claudius exiled Rome’s Jewish community in 49AD. That Jewish community included many people who had become Christians and were connected to other Christians in Rome. Paul himself was a Jew who had become a Christian. After his conversion he began travelling around the Mediterranean, starting Christian communities, and instructing them how to live.