In case you’re wondering who the white-haired fellow in the suit holding the Bible is, that’s Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. He’s the one who defended the unconscionable practice of separating parents and children of families detained at the U.S. border by citing Romans 13 from the Bible:
“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. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
This isn’t the first time Romans 13 has been used to justify terrible things. As an article in The Atlantic about how the chief modeas of the Trump administration are cruelty and denial puts it:
Just as Sessions reached for Romans 13 to justify the policy of family separation, so did the South’s theologians, such as Thornton Stringfellow, insist that scripture bestowed “the authority, from God himself, to hold men and women, and their increase, in slavery, and to transmit them as property forever.”
Here are verses 1 through 5 of Romans 13 from the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, and they’re what Sessions is referring to:
1. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
2. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
3. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
4. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
5. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Sessions is a Trump-style American conservative, and might rather that you forget about verses 6 and 7 of Romans 13, which tell you that taxes are a good thing:
6. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.
7. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
And finally, there are verses 8 through 10, which basically say that “love your neighbor” is the law — everything else is a corollary:
8. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
9. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Stephen Colbert did a nice job summarizing: