Recently Jeff Sessions made headlines when he brought Romans 13 into the discussion of the zero tolerance policy, immigration in America currently being an extremely hot issue.
Evangelical responses to Session’s use of Romans 13 vary, but seem to be pretty negative all around. Pastor Jentzen Franklin, loud supporter of Trump, flat out said Sessions was “wrong” in his application of Romans 13 to the issue of families separated at the border, noting in an interview for CNN that it was not just what Sessions said but how he said it that made him uncomfortable. Franklin Graham as well expressed disapproval to the surprise of many. New Testament scholar and blogger Michael F. Bird responded with a great and extensive post which brings to light the complexities of Romans 13. I am no scholar, but it does not take one to see the holes in Session’s misuse of the text. By and large our Attorney General failed in answering a simple yet fundamental question when loosely quoting the Apostle Paul: Christians are to obey their government to what end?
If a licensed minister is told to perform a same-sex ceremony against his or her conscience because the government says to do it, is this minister to obey government, or Scripture and conscience?
What of a OBGYN who is told that he or she must perform abortions because they are now lawful? If a doctor refuses, is this a violation of Romans 13? (This is the argument employed by Sessions.)
America was founded on disobeying authority over and against conscience. I am sure Sessions is not suggesting that our founders should not have fought against their authority, England.
Paul in Romans 13 seems to be advocating for not rebelling against your government, and especially paying taxes even to an immoral government that is hostile to Christians. This does not and cannot mean that Paul is advocating for Christians to never question government, and to always agree with it. If this were the case, why does Paul continue making trouble for his government by preaching the gospel? Why does the Apostle continue to rebel against his authority by declaring that Jesus is Lord and Savior, while Caesar is not? Whatever can be said of Romans 13, Paul here is not at all for the worship of government.
Though he may not be a historian, Sessions must realize that some great atrocities have been justified in the past by appealing to Romans 13, slavery and Nazism included. That is why Christians, especially high-profile Christians in government, should tread carefully when appealing (so publicly!) to Romans 13 for support of a certain position.
In Session’s defense, he is no theologian. But if a Christian has such a public platform, they ought to read a commentary once in a while before quoting a verse so casually.