Where is the love?
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul the Apostle (First Letter to the Corinthians)
“Charity,” which Paul posits as the greatest virtue, derives from the Latin “caritas,” which means love. “Caritas” is the Latin translation of the ancient Greek term “agape,” which denotes love that is selflessly committed to the well-being of another, of one’s fellow humans. The Christian use of charity comes directly from the teachings of Jesus, specifically what has come to be known as the Golden Rule: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Paul couched his words in a Christian context, but one does not have to be a Christian—or even religious—to practice and benefit from charity. Love is universal in its application and its value to people. In fact, I know many non-religious people—some hard-core atheists even—who are more “Christian” in their actions than a lot of folks who preach a good game but who violate the very Christian principles they purport to profess.
The heart of charity/love is empathy…
The concept of empathy is at the heart of charity/love. Empathy is the ability to understand, to identify with, the thoughts, feelings, or emotions of someone else. Psychologist and Loyola University Chicago professor Dr. James Garbarino has studied empathy in the context of youth violence and posits that one of the things that could prevent youth violence is inculcating a sense of empathy in youth, that is, teach them to feel and care for others. Empathy, I believe, should be inculcated in adults also and not only by clergy but also by elected officials and government agents. Empathy is best taught by example.
Does God really support wresting children from their parents?
What got me thinking on this topic was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ citing the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans to defend President Trump’s inhumane, evil, and racist policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents, suggesting that God supports this horribly cruel practice. In a speech to law enforcement officers, Sessions 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 the government for his purposes.” (Source 1)
Predictably, Democrats and immigration advocates condemned the Trump/Sessions policy, but the fiercest condemnation came from religious leaders, including some Trump supporters. Here’s a sampling.
Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, notes that “Overwhelmingly, Scripture causes families to be kept together (and) causes us to defend families … The Bible calls us to be pro-family, and I personally find it deeply lamentable that we are separating children from their parents at the border or anywhere.” (Source 1)
The Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section tweeted a relevant Biblical verse: “The Bible teaches that God ‘loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).” At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the nation’s Catholic leaders strongly condemned the administration’s immigration policies as immoral. (Source 1)
The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church said that, “Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.” (Source 1)
In “Faith Leaders Oppose Trump’s Immigration Policy Of Separating Children From Parents,” NPR reporter Sasha Ingber summarizes what she characterizes as “…a crescendo of criticism among religious leaders” to the Trump policy. (Source 2)
Catholic Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski: “Basically the administration has, in deciding to separate children from their parents, [tried] to weaponize children, using them as a leverage against the parents applying for their asylum applications.” (Source 2)
Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter: “It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” Tony Suarez, a Latino pastor who has informally advised Trump said, “God have mercy on those who seem so nonchalant to the plight of children being separated from their parents.” (Source 2)
Jentezen Franklin, a member of Trump’s evangelical council, said that “It’s a very dangerous route to go when you begin to take selections of scriptures and say, ‘The Bible was written to justify political standings.’ The Bible was never written as a political road map.” (Source 2)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan called the breaking up of families “un-American and unbiblical” and elaborated: “If they want to take a baby from the arms of his mother and separate the two, that’s wrong … That goes against human decency.” (Source 2)
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston in Texas: “Separating babies from their mothers is immoral.” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called the Trump policy “unconscionable.” (Source 2)
Even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming that immigrants be treated “…with the same respect and dignity as those native born” and that “the priority of family unity” be protected. (Source 2)
How about Romans 12, slaves and the “criminal” Paul…?
Rev. Salguero sagely notes that you can’t read Romans 13 without reading Romans 12, the prior chapter in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which exhorts the faithful to “Let love be without hypocrisy.” (Source 3) And before distorting the words of the Apostle Paul, Sessions should have read the sermons of the late Baptist Minister Fred B. Craddock:
“If in reading the Bible you find justification for abusing, humiliating, disgracing, harming, or hurting, especially when it makes you feel better about yourself, you are absolutely wrong.” (Source 4) The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church noted that “The Bible does not justify discrimination masked as racism, sexism, economic inequality, oppression or the abuse of children.” (Source 5)
Historians and faith leaders were quick to point out that Romans 13 was used to justify slavery. John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, notes that in the 1840s and 1850s, Romans 13 was invoked by Southern slaveholders and other defenders of slavery to counter abolitionists. Calling Sessions’ remarks “sad and sinful,” the AME stated, “The founders of this nation used the same tactics to enslave our African forebears by lifting from the writings of the Apostle Paul passages to condone slavery and to break their spirit.” (Source 5)
Matthew Soerens, of the National Association of Evangelicals, points out an irony in Sessions’ using the Apostle Paul to defend what religious leaders universally consider an unjust policy and to promote submission to authority: “The fact that the Apostle Paul, who wrote Romans, wrote several epistles from jail suggests that he was occasionally on the wrong side of an unjust law.” (Source 1) Indeed, until he was beheaded by the Romans (circa May or June 68 A.D.), Paul spent about a total of 5 1/2 to 6 years in jail. And Fea reminds us that “America was built and born on rebellion and a sort of radical resistance to authority.” (Source 1)
The hypocrisy is jaw-dropping…
The family-separation debacle puts in relief the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of Trump and his cultists. As Phil Zuckerman notes in a Los Angeles Times column, virtually every top-tier Trump White House position has been filled by a self-avowed pious Christian or someone anxious to further a Christian agenda.
Zuckerman observes that “What’s really remarkable about this group, however, is not that so many ardent worshippers of Jesus are running the country, but how non-Christian this ostensibly Christian government is proving to be. The Trump administration’s Bible devotees are pushing an agenda that flies in the face of their own savior’s message.” An example germane to our discussion here is the following:
“Oh, and how about that inn? You know, the one where poor Joseph, and pregnant, unmarried Mary couldn’t get a room (Luke 2). Surely Jesus would welcome the outsiders and refugees of the world to the most wealthy of nations. Yet his most zealous followers in the White House want to keep the poor and persecuted out. No room at this inn, they say. You have to wonder: Do they make such decisions before or after Bible study?” (Source 6)
Chapter 13 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, which introduces this blog, is one of the most well-known and quoted biblical passages. The Trump people know it well. That they don’t practice it is purposeful. They are haters posing as Christians. I’ve posited this question before, but it keeps on being relevant, so I ask again: How is it that people who claim to be religious can support and promote policies that are totally antithetical to moral and religious values? If the Trump cultists are genuinely religious, where is the love? c/s
Copyright 2018 by Salomon Baldenegro. Sal can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org Stop separation signs copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc. All other photos in the public domain.
Source 1 Julie Zauzmer and Keith McMillan, “Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families,” Washington Post, June 15, 2018
Source 2 Sasha Ingber, “Faith Leaders Oppose Trump’s Immigration Policy Of Separating Children From Parents,” NPR, June 16, 2018
Source 3 Any version of the New Testament. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans follows the Acts of the Apostles and begins the Pauline corpus of the New Testament of the Bible.
Source 4 Fred B. Craddock, “The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock,” Westminster John Knox Press, 2011
Source 5 Associated Press, “Black religious leaders criticize Jeff Sessions’ use of scripture to justify family separations,” June 15, 2018
Source 6 Phil Zuckerman, “The Trump administration’s alternative Christianity,” LA Times, August 11, 2017