The Irony of Empire

There is a certain sadness, a disappointment, an anger and a rage that comes from focusing on the idea that it was ever the policy of our nation to purposefully and intentionally separate children from their parents and indefinitely lock them in cages. While those emotions are very real, and there is a modicum of relief that Trump rescinded the policy last week, what fascinated me most was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ use of the Bible to justify this type of horror.

What many people don’t realize is that the fight over Romans 13, the verses cited by Sessions, is not a new one. I spent a significant amount of time deconstructing Romans 13 in my dissertation. The verses at the beginning of that chapter are often used to justify the breakdown of the separation of church and state by those who would like to see this country’s laws be more Christian. I went back to look at what I said about that set of verses, in light of Sessions’ blatant misuse. Romans 13 is sometimes used by Christians who want to uphold the status quo.[1]They use Romans 13 to determine whether the duty to submit to governing authorities gives the Christian a duty to make sure government is in line with God’s principles. Both of those uses in my estimation are problematic. Most conservative Evangelicals, steeped in the misguided belief that America is somehow a Christian nation, would disagree. What I found, however, is that while Sessions is making the same general mistake as these other misguided interpretations, he is making that mistake in a different way.

Sessions’ misguided analysis of Romans 13, from an intellectual perspective, is about the failure to consider context. Romans is Paul’s letter to a small sect seeking to survive in the seat of the Empire. Paul’s counsel for that little church essentially is to keep their heads down. For that reason Paul switches from discussing the authority of empire in the first couple of verses to discussing right and wrong in the next set of verses. Paul’s advice is that members of the church should do the right thing regardless of the laws of Empire and they have nothing to fear if they are doing the right thing. What they shouldn’t do, for example, is not pay their taxes because they’re now members of God’s kingdom (see verse 7). The problem with Sessions’ use of Romans 13 is that he is a representative of the Empire! The Empire doesn’t get to use these words to cajole the subjugation of a people who are not even being addressed by those words. Those are words to the church by their leader, not from the Empire to a diverse cross section of people, some of whom will not hold to the principles of the church in the first place. But it occurs to me that Sessions may not be talking to us either. He may only be talking to those who will defend him simply because he cited a Bible verse and neither he nor they will think much further about it.[2]

Of course the frustrating and angering irony of Sessions’ employing of biblical rhetoric is that he does not use the Bible to justify the substance of the policy. Instead he uses the Bible to justify his power to create the policy and to demand that we acquiesce to it. Consciously or not, he’s doing that because the Bible does not actually support his policy. As a strict separationist, I am no more a fan of using the Bible to support policies I agree with than I am of using the Bible to justify the policies with which I disagree.[3]But it is interesting to note that, on this question, the Bible has what seems to be clear counsel. In a general sense, Stephen Colbert is correct – Sessions’ argument on how to treat those from a neighboring country is undercut within the very chapter he cites. It also appears that even in the one theocracy in the Bible God calls for the Israelites to treat foreigners better than we are. You would think someone who is arguing that the Bible should undergird our policy would be cognizant of that.

American Christianity has had a bad last few weeks. A couple of weeks ago, much of American Christianity celebrated the right to treat people as less free than ourselves. Last week one amongst us used our texts to justify cruelty for cruelty’s sake, and some of us celebrated again. It is getting harder and harder to justify why anyone should want to join such an institution. That may be an overstatement, but at the very least I can say this – I believe we have lost our way. Our purpose. Our reason for existence. When any segment of us can celebrate discrimination, when any among us can celebrate the use of power with pain and cruelty as our ends, we are no longer the movement seeking to introduce people to a kind and loving God who died to save all.

[1]The Washington Post article cited gives two good examples – loyalists to the British crown during the Revolution and supporters of slavery the in Antebellum period.

[2]And this is not even mentioning what he said after, which is even more disturbing:“Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.” I don’t think I need to explain how that is a problematic belief to hold.

[3]In short, I don’t want the Bible used to justify a robust welfare system any more than I want the Bible used to justify outlawing abortion.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at:

Image Credit: Rich Hannon / Spectrum Magazine

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Even the devil used Scripture to tempt Jesus. He also promised an empire. One needs to read Frost on building a wall.


No secular political ideology speaks for Christianity, American or otherwise. Nor can American Christianity be categorized as a singular “institution” that must bear corporate responsibility for the bigotry and intolerance presently—and illegitimately—running rampant in Christendom’s name.

That is the comfort we can all take at the present moment, even as we deplore the perversion of Scripture by those who seem conveniently to forget that the author of Romans 13 gave his own life rather than to obey the wrongful decrees of civil government, as did many of the recipients of that very epistle.

I have appreciated those commentators in the media who have lately noted that it is not, as many absurdly believe, possible to “get anything you want to out of the Bible,” but that instead, one of the underlying themes of Scripture is resistance by the godly against the injustices and disregard of the conscience by civil authority. For any civic leader, therefore, to cite Romans 13:2 as justification for the unconscionable cruelties we have recently witnessed against those seeking refuge in our land, is indefensible on the collective grounds of both Old and New Testaments.

At the bottom line, as Ellen White predicted so long ago in The Great Controversy, we see the sins of Babylon—apostate Christianity—being “laid open” (GC 606). We will see more and more of this as we near the end. I am grateful for the statement by our own denomination against what is happening at the southern U.S. border, and against the misuse of Scripture to justify the cruel and heartless practices we have lately witnessed.


Speaking of empires and those who wish to build them, I am reminded of these lines written by C.S. Lewis:
“We are a little land. And little lands on the borders of a great empire were always hateful to the lords of the great empire. He longs to blot them out, gobble them up.” ---- C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy
Donald Trump likes empires, dictators, and autocrats, and he likes to be liked by them. After meeting Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Trump called Sisi “a fantastic guy,” gushing, “he took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it.” Trump approves of the unprecedented repression that followed Sisi’s taking power, which includes extra-judicial killings, repression of civil society organizations, detention of tens of thousands and disappearances of hundreds. Trump should be asked not only about his admiration for Sisi but also about how he would approach dissidents, lawyers and journalists imprisoned under the regimes he holds in high regard. Thoughtlessly associating oneself with strong men reflects badly on the United States. It perplexes our closest allies, democracies on whom we rely for security and diplomatic backing. It is also meaningless without a strategy for advancing American interests. What does Trump believe he can accomplish with the endorsement of undemocratic, brutal regimes like North Korea and Russia? The tragedy is, he does not care.


I am grateful, Jason, for the article, and I identify with all three of the comments above.

Romans 13:8 says (roughly): Owe no one anything except to love one another…love is the fulfilling of the law. These lines are a key part of the reason Jason is dead right. Overlooking these lines is a key part of the reason much of contemporary Evangelical Christianity is a snare and a delusion.

Instead of waiting around (probably futilely) for a national Sunday law, we should right now be quoting Revelation 18: Come out of her my people.

Surely this is a God-help-us moment



The Sunday law will come, my friend. We don’t know when, but as we see the Christian Right and its papal allies flexing their muscles in our land, especially with the new Supreme Court vacancy, it might not be far off. The timing depends on God’s people and their spiritual readiness (II Peter 3:12; Rev. 7:1-3).


Meanwhile, the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa (i understand that this is the largest denomination in Samoa) has come out against the government, declaring that a recently passed law taxing the income of ministers is unbiblical, and that tax will not be deducted from ministers incomes and passed to the government. I question what the theologians in Samoa have discovered that theologians in the rest of the world have yet to discover.

1 Like

Ok, since my reputation on the subject is already tanked I will attempt to explain, perhaps, the other side.

Yes, there is another side. I believe the thinking of the “bad guys” (who have been accused of racism, hating kids, their families, and their grandparents) is about the safety of American citizens. Absolutely, most of the kids and families that come across the border are only looking for a better life and security - (please don’t dismiss this statement). Along with these families, there are other people that are trying to get into the country as well. They are those who trade in drugs and various types of crime in their own countries and find the US a lucrative source of income. The guys who trade in drugs are not as nice. They don’t care about our kids or communities. We are all concerned about the drugs that entice our kids and the crime that that brings.

Another concern has always been keeping various communicable diseases from coming into the country. Given the poverty and lack of oversight in some of the countries south of our border, (and other places around the world) we can’t assume that they have received all the preventative medications that have wiped out some very bad diseases in the US - polio, diphtheria, cholera, plague etc.

While we are to love and care for those who have all kinds of needs, we also have a responsibility toward our own communities that house our own children. These horrible government officials that man the border and those who give them their jobs might think it’s their responsibility to keep our communities safe from crime and disease that also comes across the border with the innocent and the healthy. There is an answer to all this-and it’s not to tare down the border, but to manage it for the benefit to all good-intentioned people.

So, when we plead for love for our southern neighbours, the word “love” is complicated. Sometimes love doesn’t look like love - a screaming kid getting inoculations doesn’t understand his mother’s love at that moment; a loving parent doesn’t always do what feels good.

To “love your neighbour as yourself” is an appeal to us individually to treat others as we would want to be treated. By extension, this applies to individuals who work in places where they are responsible for, not only our neighbours, but also the people for whom they have taken an oath to serve and protect. Not until the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth, will this problem be solved…


It isn’t my place to question your sincerity, or anyone else’s. But while your observations include a measure of truth, it is a story almost as old as America itself. And it is not a nice story.

Suspicion of, and contempt for, those who come to the United States from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds has often been based on all the factors you mention: fear of crime, fear of disease, disruption of American society in a host of ways, some real but many more imagined. Just about every major ethnicity that has come to these shores has experienced this barrier to acceptance—the Germans, the Poles, the Irish, the Swedes, the Jews, the Ukranians—you name them.

And let’s not get caught up in the legal-versus-illegal argument either, as many of our ancestors didn’t come to this country with a good conduct certification from the local police in their native lands. Does anybody remember where the slang term “wop” (for Italians) originated? For those who don’t know, it means “without papers.” Like many others in those days, they came to these shores hidden in bales of merchandise and concealed in a host of other ingenious ways.

I am of Armenian descent on my father’s side. They too were despised when they first came to places like Fresno, California, where my parents lived after they were first married. My grandfather’s name had been Garbed Boghosian, a name he changed to George Paulson when he came to Ellis Island in 1913. (Boghosian, by the way, means “son of Paul,” so Grandfather simply Anglicized the name to Paulson.) When my father and grandfather built the first home my parents lived in, they went to purchase insurance from a salesman in the city of Fresno. As the man calmly read off the terms of the policy, he politely mentioned that they didn’t sell insurance to Armenians. And why? Because Armenians were supposedly known to burn down their houses to collect insurance! (Like all Italians belong to the Mafia, all Jews are tight with money, and all African-Americans eat chicken and watermelon!)

My grandfather’s and father’s new surname, Paulson, didn’t throw the man off, as it sounded very “mainstream.” But my grandfather had fled from Turkey to escape the massacre of our people in 1915, in which six members of our family were slaughtered, some by being buried alive after having to dig their own graves. So my grandfather wasn’t about to take that kind of talk from the insurance salesman, and at that moment experienced a rare outburst of temper, telling the man that he and my father were in fact Armenian. After the salesman had nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise, he settled down and said that he couldn’t sell them the policy.

There you see a glimpse of the “greatness” of America that has poisoned the spirit of our land for generations, and which certain misguided and perverse minds would like devoutly to restore.

It’s a sad, wicked, deplorable tradition. And we see it in action on our southern border and at the screaming rallies where bigots spew foul racial epithets at the latest group in American history to be subjected to this toxic tradition.

I often wonder why so few bother to point out that if one were a terrorist or any other person of ill-repute seeking to illegally enter this country, they would most likely enter from Canada rather than from Mexico. No one cares about anyone crossing the border from our northern neighbor, because the folks up there—well, we know what makes them different from the folks south of the border, don’t we?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be laws, but the illusion that poor people of color from south of the border pose any kind of notable threat to the national, economic, or any other sort of security of the United States of America, is simply wrong. The fact is that throughout our history, the alien record so far as observance of our nation’s laws is concerned has been extremely positive, and continues to be. Far, far more are victimized in this country on a daily basis by fellow American citizens than the paltry few who suffer at the hands of the undocumented.


Thank YOU!!
Yes! The things you mentioned.

  1. PROTECTION. Communicable Diseases should be a HUGE concern. These persons
    from other Mexican, Central American, South American countries have NOT had exposure
    to Immunization to Mumps, Measles, Rubella, Tetanus, Diphtheria.
    Many of them are going to have Intestinal and Blood parasites.
    The chance of many of them having Tuberculosis is Very High. This is very catching.
    Some TB strains are drug resistant. One picks it up from someone unawares.

  2. PROTECTION. As you mentioned MANY undesireables attempt to enter the U.S
    in this manner. Some may have even KIDNAPPED a child and claim it is theirs just
    to get in. Becoming a source of bringing in drugs from their friends across the border.
    One drug dealer in GA, I saw in the paper, was making $80,000 a year prior to his
    arrest. And, of course, that was “Tax Free” income. And HE was a middle-man. He
    had quite a number of distributors HE Sold to.

  3. COST to the U.S. Taxpayer. – Right now Each Family will get $8,000 a year. I saw
    estimates where the lowest number just for the short-term cost to the U.S. Taxpayer
    will be $600,000,000 dollars.
    If these persons become eligible for housing subsidy, food stamps, free schooling.
    Those are additional drain on the taxpayers and local communities.

  4. Can we afford to absorb immigrants? Yes.
    Can we afford to absorb a mass invasion? No.

PS-- For the past 2 school years I have been assisting with a “Teaching English” program
to foreigners. In my class [we have 3 levels] I have had 4 Russians, 3 Viet Nam, persons
from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Brasil, All wonderful persons.


Why isn’t anyone, but primarily you, concerned that ripping children from their mothers arms using the excuse that they were going to “give them a bath” was the same technique that Adolf Hitler’s men used, just before they took these mothers and fathers into the gas chambers. I am sick of the cowardly, yes that’s right, cowardly position that it is about the “safety” of America that we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the suffering mothers with children fleeing the savagery of their mother country, not to come here and make more money, buy more things for their family’s, but rather, to actually try to spare their children and themselves from rape, murder and enslavement. Then you can take your safety issues and use them for bathroom paper. God will judge all of us for this and for those who care about their “safety”, they won’t have safety for an eternity.


I have not seen “screaming rallies where bigots spew foul epithets” at those crossing the southern border.
The only people screaming are our moral leaders out of Hollywood, and privileged college kids who can’t bear to hear any other viewpoint but their own.

Interestingly enough, I had a totally different experience coming into the country; and not in a bale of merchandise. Even as war refugees, my parents and I had to jump through many hoops before allowed to enter the country. My uncle, who had come to the US before the war to join the US military, had to sponsor us by guaranteeing my dad a job. After numerous trips to US consulate, and after five years, we arrived in NY harbour, passing Ellis Island which at that point wasn’t operating anymore. My arm is peppered with scars from inoculations I had received, travelling trough Europe as everyone was trying to keep out diseases.

If that is your “glimpse” of the American spirit, then why would anyone come here. Bigotry always shows up among ignorant people. They will always show up in crowds where mob mentality takes charge of peoples’ emotions. The only groups doing that are the invested agitators. There are elements that thrive on agitating for the worst humanity can display. If we’re looking for proof that someone is trying to cause disruption in the country- we have it.

My parents lived through Nazi and Russian occupations in Estonia. They risked their lives in order to get me out of Estonia, as the Russian troops were approaching. Their ultimate goal was to come to America where they felt they could give me the best possible life. They were bitterly disappointed when Roosevelt sold out the three Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at the end of the war. Those three countries were ruled by communist Soviet Union until they were able to get rid of their prisoners in the 1990’s, about the time the Berlin wall came down.

It’s disappointing, for me, and not a little scary, as the socialists are gaining control of the US, in the name of equality. My dad used to say, wherever there is some kind of political or social upheaval, you can bet the communists are in the middle it. And so it is now. The socialist agenda looks great on the surface among people who will, or can not work for a living, but like Orwell said in Animal Farm, “some pigs are more equal than others” - someone is always in charge, getting the perks.

Interesting that you would say that. Like I said in another thread, the northern border is much more fortified with windowless buildings, encased in metallic netting. Ironic, when we should tear down the border in the south.

Just curious, what was it you found having “a measure of truth”.


Take a deep breath. I don’t think you meant to say what you did. As a retired English teacher, I should point out that your sentence is grammatical incorrect and confusing. What you should have said, is “Why aren’t you, NOT concerned that ripping children from their mother’s arms, using the same excuse that they were going to give them a bath, is the same technique that Adolf Hitler’s men used, just before they took these mothers a fathers into the gas chambers.”

…because that statement comes out of mindless hysterics - unless you actually believe the US border agents are gassing people at the border. The report responsible for this kind of idiotic concept came from a description of the facilities at the border, where the children were being housed - where they had “beds (not cages) and had showers available”. So making showers available for these kids, has been turned into Nazi gas chambers.

And that is what’s called agitation by the leftist elements - in case you can’t recognize it.


Trump hate alert…

“When any segment of us can celebrate discrimination, and the use of power with pain and cruelty as our ends”

Wow…I think this is hyper-exaggeration…where is our church discriminating let alone celebrating it?

This isnt about the children…it never was…

God bless president Trump…wish we had him here in Australia…

1 Like

Please invite him (Trump) to go and stay there!


Note to Kevin
Regarding walking from Canada to the U.S.
+++ A few days ago it was reported that a woman [French citizen] had been visiting her
daughter who lived in South-west Canada not far from the U.S. border. She was out
jogging along the beach and ended up in U.S. territory.
She was arrested. Instead of being allowed to walk back to Canada, she was hauled
150 miles into Washington state, placed in jail, and kept there for 2 weeks before
being allowed to go back to her daughter’s place in Canada.


Know that some here, myself included, agree with your sentiments and may not have taken the time to respond beyond a heart click because you have laid out the logical to the extent of the government’s role in a very clear and concise manner and wanted you to realize “we got your back”. OOPS, “we’ve” :+1:


I don’t think he majored in English. He should have said, “take them back from where they came”

Apparently, neither do you. And it took four tries to say that?