The Use of Scripture in the Public Square

June 17, 2018
Gospel stories tell that after Jesus’ baptism, when he is led into the desert, the devil cites verses from the Psalms in an effort to tempt Jesus to jump down from the pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple. Thus we learn that even the devil can twist verses of the scriptures to his own purposes.
How then might we tell, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions quotes verses from Romans 13 to justify the separation of children from their parents at the U.S. border, whether he engages in faithful reading, or in a more sinister use of Scripture?
One way might be to consider the company he keeps: This biblical passage was a favorite of slave holders, Nazis, and supporters of apartheid in South Africa.
Another way might be to ask whether Mr. Sessions would have cited this scripture exalting political leaders as ordained by God and deserving of obedience during the Obama administration.
Finally, we might subject Mr. Sessions’ reading of Scripture to the test put forth by the early Christian Saint Augustine who wrote that if one understands the divine scriptures in such a way that does not build up double love of God and neighbor, “they have not yet understood.”
Mr. Sessions’ use of Scripture fails this test. I urge people of the book to renounce his heartless cruelty toward the immigrant and the sojourner, and his cynical use of Scripture to justify this cruelty.
The Rev. Dr. Shelly Matthews Professor of New Testament Brite Divinity School Fort Worth, Texas