Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.
~ Romans 13.1
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify separating children from their parents when families cross the southern border of the United States uninvited he was following in a long tradition of using the Bible to justify questionable, some would say abominable, behavior. The same passage has been used over the centuries to support slavery, genocide, and apartheid, among other highpoints of human history.
It shouldn’t be surprising when people in power use the Bible, or religion in general, to justify their actions, to bolster their claim to unquestionable authority. Power politics, after all, has been embedded in Christianity from the beginning.
Fairly early in the gospel according to Luke, Jesus’ disciples get into an argument about who among them is the greatest (Luke 9.46). One can only imagine how exasperated Jesus was by the entire display. I can almost hear Jesus groan when he heard his disciples arguing about who was the favorite, who had more power. But that is hardly the end of power struggles in the Christian scriptures. Paul’s letters are full of references to his conflicts with other early church leaders such as James and Peter. In Corinthians, and elsewhere, he seems to crave credibility:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Didn’t I see our Savior Jesus, and aren’t you yourselves my work in Christ?
~ I Corinthians 9.1
Power, and struggles for it, are so prevalent in our tradition that I believe much of what passes for religion is really just about struggling for power. And while I’m not an expert in other religions, something tells me they have similar problems.
Take the whole concept of “heresy,” for example. Have you ever been branded a heretic? Did you ever do that to someone else? What does it mean, anyway? Church leaders over the centuries have held that heresy denotes beliefs that fall outside of God’s will. But in reality, what is considered heresy changes over time depending on who is currently in power. Heresy is more about threatening the current religious power structure, questioning its legitimacy, undermining its authority. Heresy is about power, not absolute belief.
As I write this I am looking out the windows of our little house in the meadow, our second home in the Methow Valley. The sunset was glorious tonight, and darkness is creeping over the valley. In an hour or so the stars will start emerging. If we stay up late enough we will see the constellations, and eventually that white band of amazement we call the Milky Way. Now even if it feels a bit crazy, bear with me and imagine that a supreme being, God if you will, created all this. The sunset. The stars. The galaxies. The universe, or universes. And now imagine that the same supreme being only has one acceptable name. Or insists on belief in substitutionary atonement. Or cares how many angels you think can dance on the head of a pin. Or whether we believe we consume grain and juice or flesh and blood at Communion. It’s ludicrous. Unless it’s just about power.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
~ Matthew 11.28-29
Gentle. Humble. Find rest for your souls. Jesus doesn’t sound like a power monger to me. Along our southern border, I believe he’s standing with those parents and children being ripped from each other’s arms, not with the demagogues in Washington D.C. and elsewhere who will stop at nothing to divinely justify their inhumane behavior.