Both the Catholic Archibishop of New York and the United Methodist Church as a whole have condemned Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s attempt to use biblical passages to justify separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Both assert that Sessions is, for one thing, not grasping the true meaning behind the passages he is using, and using them in a way that is completely against the true teachings of the church. Reverend Susan Henry-Crowe, the general secretary of the United Methodist Church, said, according to The Hill, “To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel.”
Before we get into the details of what these church leaders think of Sessions’s misinterpretation and misuse of biblical passages to justify an immoral act, let’s start a step back and consider things from a secular perspective. One of the primary underpinnings of our democracy is the separation of church and state. That separation means that government officials should not be making state decisions based on religious reasons. For Jeff Sessions to attempt to justify the state decision to separate children from their parents at the border using biblical passages is therefore a violation of the separation of church and state. Second, you don’t need to use the perspective of religion to see that it is wrong to separate children from their parents this way. Compassion tells a person that it is wrong. Psychological understanding tells you that it is wrong, that it traumatizes the children deeply, so deeply that it may be extremely difficult to recover from that trauma. Unfortunately, however, both compassion and understanding are in short supply in the Trump administration.
The United Methodist Church joins the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Church in not supporting Trump’s immigration policies. Jeff Sessions is himself a Methodist, so the United Methodist Church may have thought their voice in particular might get Sessions’s attention. General Secretary Reverend Susan Henry-Crowe expressed both that she felt it should be obvious that this separation policy is wrong and that Sessions’s use of the Bible as justification was wrong-headed, that, according to The Hill, “It is unimaginable that faith leaders even have to say that these policies are antithetical to the teachings of Christ.” According to The Hill:
The United Methodist Church this week criticized the Department of Justice for the Trump administration’s immigration policies of separating migrant families and denying asylum to those fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence. The church also specifically called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who is Methodist – to “immediately reverse these decisions.” In a statement written by the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, the church’s general secretary, the Methodist denomination argued that the policies are “antithetical to the teachings of Christ” and criticized the Trump administration for using the Bible to justify the policies… Henry-Crowe noted that the administration used the Christian text of Paul’s letter to the Romans to justify their policies but said they missed the parts that stress the need to be hospitable to strangers and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”…”To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel,” Henry-Crowe wrote.“Christian sacred texts should never be used to justify policies that oppress or harm children and families,” the statement added.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, also expressed strong objections to Sessions’s use of the Bible to justify a policy that is morally wrong. Dolan called the separation policy “unjust”,”unbiblical”, and “un-American”. He also made the point that it is wrong to follow man’s laws that violate God’s law, which in a secular way means that it is wrong to follow the law strictly if it is morally wrong to do so. According to The Hill:
The archbishop of New York issued a harsh rebuke of the policy, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo that it is “un-American.” “I don’t think we should obey a law that goes against what God intends that you would take a baby, a child, from their mom,” he said. “I mean, that’s just unjust. That’s unbiblical. That’s un-American. There could be no Bible passage that would justify that.” “God’s law trumps man’s law,” Dolan added, citing a Bible verse to support his counterargument…Dolan said that the passage Sessions quoted “might not be the best” to prove his point. “St. Paul himself, who gave the quote that the attorney general used, he wouldn’t obey Roman law when it said it was mandatory to worship the emperor,” Dolan said. “He wouldn’t obey that law.”…“If they want to take a baby from the arms of his mother and separate the two, that’s wrong,” he said. “I don’t care where you’re at, what time and what condition … you don’t have to read the bible for that. That goes against human decency. That goes against human dignity.”
It is a violation of the separation of church and state for Sessions to be giving religious reasons for decisions of state. From the vantage point of these key religious figures, it is also wrong for Sessions to be attempting to conform biblical passages to Trump’s decisions, misusing and misinterpreting the passages in order to justify the Trump administration’s separation policy, rather than considering the immoral nature of those policies and stopping them.