Editor’s note: The following commentary is Senior Pastor Rev. Magrey deVega’s “Midweek Message" to Tampa’s Hyde Park UMC family, published the week of June 18.
"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." - Romans 13:1
When U.S. Attorney General cited Romans 13:1 in defense of the administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their families, my ears perked up. During my senior year of high school, my Bible class studied the book of Romans, verse by verse, resulting in a one-question final exam: "Explain Romans."
I became familiar with the most popular way that verse has been used throughout our nation's history: to divinely sanction governments as instruments of God, and coerce people into obedience.
|Allendale UMC, St. Petersburg, joined the greater community to stand in solidarity against families at the border being separated. Photo courtesy Allendale UMC's Facebook page.|
British loyalists used it to counter the American Revolution. Slaveholders used it to promote slavery. Advocates of the death penalty use it to defend capital punishment. And Jeff Sessions has now invoked it to promote an inhumane method of addressing border security.
But if there is anything I learned from having to "explain Romans," it is that one should never take a single verse out of context. Panning out to all of chapters 12 and 13 reminds us that this is not about the government getting to do whatever it wants to do, under the cover of God's blessing. It is more about abhorring evil and doing good (12:9), practicing hospitality (12:13), being at peace (12:18), overcoming evil with good (12:21), loving our neighbors (13:8-10), and laying aside immoral actions (13:12-14)
But here is the biggest fallacy in using Romans 13:1 the way Sessions used it. Even if it were true that God has certified worldly governments to carry out divine will, there is still always one divinely sanctioned entity that predates and supersedes political institutions.
Before there were tribes, nations, borders, political parties, and earthly laws, God created the family. It is the preservation of the family, and particularly the protection of our children, that guarantees our flourishing and fruitfulness as a people.
We remember that Jesus had words for the Romans as well, in his command to "let the children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14) It was an indictment of the way Roman culture had allowed the exploitation and dehumanization of children. Jesus was in no way interested in telling his followers that the abuse of children was allowable as a divinely sanctioned policy.
You may have heard that Jeff Sessions is a member of a United Methodist congregation in Alabama, and that reaction from our denomination has been swift. Our Bishop Ken Carter, recently elected as the President of the Council of Bishops, issued a strong denunciation.  The United Methodist Women has issued its own condemnation,  as has a growing list of at least 600 fellow United Methodists who have filed a formal church complaint against him. 
The problem is not with a politician quoting scripture. Promoting biblical literacy in the public square can be a good thing. The biggest problem is not even with misinterpreting scripture. We are all susceptible to it.
|Photo courtesy Allendale UMC's Facebook page.|
The problem is in its misuse, to promote an agenda that is not only antithetical to the Gospel, but is destructive to the highest and best human institution that God created: the family.
So, here are five other Bible verses that I suggest Jeff Sessions consider:
Zechariah 7:9-10: "Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart."
Proverbs 31:8-9: "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Jeremiah 22:3: "Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place."
Isaiah 58:6-7: "Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him."
Leviticus 19:33-34: "And if strangers dwell with you in your land, you shall not mistreat them. The strangers who dwell among you shall be to you as those born among you, and you shall love them as yourselves; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
The list could go on and on. We are called to practice hospitality to strangers, promote human dignity and worth, preserve the sacred bonds of family, and protect the children: the immigrant, the unborn, the school aged fearing for their safety, the bullied, the abused, the disadvantaged, the minority, from every walk of life and corner of the world. They are not commodities or pawns in political power games. They are all children of God, and children of ours.
JUSTICE FOR OUR NEIGHBORS (JFON)
Among the ways you might discern responding to this crisis is to support the United Methodist agency Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), which promotes a just immigration system and provides legal support for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. I have made a personal contribution to them in the wake of this recent government policy and am on their mailing list. If you feel led to learn more, visit fljfon.org for more information.