The Atlantic

The Fight to Define Romans 13

Jeff Sessions used it to justify his policy of family separation, but he’s not the first to invoke the biblical passage.
Source: Alex Brandon / AP

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border by referencing the New Testament. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13,” Sessions said, “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders summed up the same idea: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

Those remarks by Sessions were aimed at what he called “our church friends”—religious leaders who had criticized the policy of breaking up families. Sessions seemed to be speaking both as a public official and as an insider to Christianity. By invoking , Sessions was bringing to bear one of the most significant biblical passages in American history, but one which” of conflicting interpretations—and the interpretation that Sessions chose to stress has a troubling history.

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