The Bible Verse the White House Used to Justify Separating Families Was Also Once Used to Justify Slavery

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Jeff Sessions Bible
Attorney General Jeff used the Bible scripture as a way to justify a controversial policy separating migrant families. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Trump White House on Thursday used a Bible verse to justify the practice of separating migrant children from their families as punishment for crossing the U.S. border illegally — the very same verse once used to justify the institution of slavery.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions backed the controversial policy, pegging it as the law of the land by saying, ” … Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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 them for the purpose of order.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later defended Session’s comments, telling the press, “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law.” She stopped short of naming specific scriptures, however.

The administration’s twisted use of the Word was a topic of recent discussion between CNN’s Don Lemon and guest Pastor A.R. Bernard, who were quick to call out the moral deceit of such a tactic.

“We’re on dangerous ground when we begin to experience what is symptomatic of a politically co-opted gospel and Christian lens that’s coming through,” Bernard told Lemon. “[Sessions] shouldn’t be quoting from scripture because we can make the scripture say anything we want and try to legitimize public policy.”

“When we use the bible to justify policies that are targeting children to separate them from their parents, that’s an atrocity,” he added.

“And we know what Romans 13 has been been used to justify: slavery,” Lemon chimed in. “Did they not learn a lesson from that?”

Not only has Romans 13 historically been used to legitimize government power, but most infamously as a way to defend slavery. According to Vox, the scripture was lauded by pro-slavery advocates to protect the institution of slavery as well as advocate for the return of enslaved Blacks who ran away.

As Lemon pointed out, the passage from Romans 13 has a long and troubling history in U.S. politics. The verse was part of a collection of letters authored by the Apostle Paul to early Christian communities to help standardize the early elements of Christianity in the decades following Jesus’ death, according to Vox. Most times it’s quoted out of context, however, leaving room for twisted interpretations.

Writer and theologian Diana Butler Bass gave a brief run down of the scripture’s original context via Twitter, detailing the religious and political climate of the time. Bass explained that the church was ethnically split between Jews and Gentiles and that there might have been some tension there. Paul feared a rise of nationalist impulses among the Jews, who had just returned to Rome from exile in Palestine, and may have inserted the verse as a well to maintain unity within the Jewish-Gentile Christian community.


“It’s vital to understand the contextual history of Romans 13 in order to understand that it is not a blanket statement about Christianity and government,” Vox reported. ” …Like all verses in the Bible — a diverse collection of texts written by a number of different authors over a period of centuries, and later collected and codified as a holy text — it must be read in context, and alongside other seemingly contradictory or diverging verses.”

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