Every so often it's good to take a break from the usual routine of finding a devotional slant to the appointed readings on Sunday morning. This week, the national spotlight was on the immigration debate. I do not believe it is the role of a pastor to take a political stance and to advocate from the pulpit for one political position or another. However, the invocation of Romans 13 by two government officials recently, an action intended to produce what can only be described as "political goals," warrants--you might even say, necessitates--a brief reflection on Romans 13 and the Scriptures in general by all of us who claim those Scriptures as our own.
St. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, writes that followers of Jesus are to be subject to the governing authorities "for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Much has been written about the reason St. Paul gave such instructions. What we know for certain is this: the people who first received and read this letter were people striving to be faithful followers of Jesus under a government that did not recognize the God of Israel as the supreme authority...a government known to persecute those who did not render ultimate allegiance to the emperor (cf. Rom 12:14). Even under these circumstances, Paul writes "Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval." The Christian faith is therefore one that has never advocated anarchy and rebellion for anarchy's sake. Peace and justice originate with the ultimate Judge, but respect, and honor, and yes, even revenue is owed those in authority whom the Judge has put in authority over us (13:7). If this was true for the earliest Christians, it should certainly be true today.
It should be noted, however, that such words were penned by an apostle of God who often found himself on the wrong end of the law and was himself imprisoned for the testimony of Jesus he preached (Eph 3:1, Phil 1:7, Col 4:10, Philemon 1, 2 Tim 1:16, etc.). For this reason, it is a wholesome thing for followers of Jesus to not only look to the government to establish and enforce laws but, more importantly to ask, "how would GOD want us to live?" When we do so on the matter of undocumented aliens, we see that the prophet Zechariah enjoins us to "show kindness and mercy to one another," and strive "not to oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner [read: undocumented alien] or the poor" (Zech 7:10). When we treat the immigrant alien as a human being first and not an animal, when we understand the problem of mass migration as a human tragedy and not an infestation to be swept away, we find opportunities to serve and be instruments of mercy even as we create and uphold laws that are for the well-being of all.
Of course, "that's easy for you to say," you might think...for I am over a thousand miles away from our Southern border. And you'd be right. But let me just add that though the circumstances are different, one of the most formative parts of my early upbringing came from the opportunity I had at my church to befriend and be family to people who were entering the country as refugees in need of a home and a safe place to live. The experience CHANGED me, for the better. Let us all uphold those in authority over us with our prayers, our tax dollars, our honor and our respect. Let us also seek God's forgiveness when we fail to be instruments of God's peace and justice for all. With the wisdom only God can give, we seek to honor and uphold our laws...even as we look for ways to better serve the sojourners in our midst.