The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Lections: Jeremiah 11.1-14; Romans 13.1-10
It’s great to know that there’s a Bible Study group that meets regularly in the White House
Bible study and Lectio Divina are wonderful ways into the scriptures and we should encourage everyone to be involved. But one of the outcomes of reading the scriptures must surely be that we treat them and use them well. So it was interesting when the Second Lesson for this Evensong was quoted last week by a member of that White House Bible Study Group as justification for some of the actions of the current administration.
Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, a prominent member of the White House Bible Study Group, defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border by citing a passage from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans in these terms.
“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. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
Interesting. George III also used to appeal to this passage during the American War of Independence! Touché! It’s obviously a good text to be able to get down off the shelf when you need to bolster and defend your actions. It’s true that in a number of places in scripture the rights of legitimate government and authority are defended. Jesus, in debating with others and being challenged by them on his own relationship with authority figures, defended the paying of taxes when he said ‘Render unto Caesar …’. St Peter in his First Letter calls on us to pray for those in authority.
But we need to contrast all of this with people like the Prophet Jeremiah who we heard from in our First Lesson. He was a pain in the neck to the authorities of his day, constantly criticising, undermining them, unsettling those who listened to him, defeatist, a dangerous and unhelpful critic. So they put him down a well, they kept him locked up, they did everything to try and stop him, to try to shut him up. But in time his words proved to be true.
The Psalmist, as well, is deeply critical of authority wrongly used. Psalm 52 begins like this
Why do you glory in evil, you tyrant,
while the goodness of God endures continually?
You plot destruction, you deceiver;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor.
You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than the word of truth.
You love all words that hurt,
O you deceitful tongue.
Therefore God shall utterly bring you down;
As with most passages of scripture it’s good to set them in context and to read on. The reason why it’s not as simple as the Attorney General suggests it is is because of what Paul goes on to say.
‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. ….. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.’
Love is the test that we apply to everything because love is of the very nature of God, love is the creative force behind all things, love is the powerful motivation of all the law, for God is love and nothing is more important than that. The litmus test we apply to any decision, to any government wherever they are, our own, overseas, is, does this decision reveal love, is it born of love, and in that way, does it fulfil the law?
The traumas that nations are going through at the present time with how we care for migrants, for whatever reason is that such of our brothers and sisters are making difficult, dangerous, costly and always life changing and often life threatening journeys, the decisions we are making have to have this test applied to them – and it’s that that Paul is saying to the Christians in Rome – yes, obey the law but test that law against the law of love and then you will know whether it is of God, or whether it is not.