In less than a week I will be leaving the beautifully ancient city of Oxford. I will have more to say in the coming weeks and months–certainly for years–about the emotions of leaving a place which has roughly 1200 years of teaching experience and tradition. But for now, I face a return flight to the U.S. and a full preaching schedule, both of which remind me that I must be even more aware of the issues our country faces. My favourite barista, an immigrant from Greece with a young daughter who loves to dance, asked me recently, “How is your country?” I paused and said, “I’ll get back to you.”
As the stories of government-endorsed child abduction continue to penetrate mainstream media, I have to face this woman and say, “My country is separating families.” This statement, however, doesn’t do justice to the 638 parents who, seeking better lives for their families in the land of the “free” and made the horrifying journey to the U.S., have had their children taken and given to “American” families or held in detention centers. This crime is all too similar to the removal of American Indian children from their families, and their forced adoption by white families after WWII, and which continues today. The disturbing reality is that our country has a history of “legally” abducting children, and our leaders believe they can use the Bible to justify this abuse.
When a message of self-sacrifice, inclusivity, and love can be used to inflict physical and psychological harm, we must ask ourselves how. How is the “good news” so easily manipulated; and how is this manipulation so easily believed? For instance, one should not be able to quote Romans 13:1 (“Everyone must submit to governing authorities.”) as Jeff Sessions did, and in so doing, use the Bible to justify government-sponsored abuse. For the sake of argument, Kim Jong Un could use the same verse to justify the subordination of the North Korean people under his regime.
This is only the latest misuse/misunderstanding. What can we do to avoid misusing God’s message of broken chains, healing and love?
1) When we quote scripture we must read it in context. We must seek to understand who the author(s) were writing to, what the values of the society were at that time, and what timeless message we can take away (there are many good commentaries online or in study bibles–though not all will be as inclusive as we’d hope). We also have to look at the verses/chapters before and after a given verse to see how the verse fits within the narrative.
As Stephen Colbert rightly noted on The Late Night Show this past Friday, “If he [Jeff Sessions] had just read a little bit further into Romans 13:10 it says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Loves does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.'” It should be evident that reading this verse changes the meaning Romans 13:1. As my tutor here at Oxford said, “text without context is just pretext.” If governing authorities are loving and just, then we are to submit to them because they are looking after our “good” (Romans 13:4). We do not blindly consent to be governed, nor should we blindly believe misuses/misunderstandings of the Bible.
2) When we share scripture from the Bible, we must use it as Jesus would have: to bring healing, to proclaim justice, to gather people together in communities of love and care.
So on this Father’s Day, I ask you to read your Bible with context; to share it in love–not to change someone’s mind or justify cruelty; and to speak out when our governments act like moral-less dictatorships. Speak out, step up, and proclaim love!
And just in case you want to share what the Bible actually says about refugees and immigrants, here are a few verses to start with: Lev. 19:9-10, 33-34; Num. 9:14; Detu. 26:12-15; the entire book of Ruth (of which I have a YouTube series on); Matthew 25:31-46.
“For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.” Matthew 25:35