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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/17/18

Jeff Sessions' Authority Defense for Cruelty of 'Just Following Orders' Has a Grim History

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In defense of the Trump administration's immigration policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a passage in Romans 13. Apostle Paul's New Testament epistle calls on Christians to "be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God."

In other words, if a government or a high authority tells you to do something, you do it!

Jeff Sessions is not alone in elevating "authority" to godlike status. According to historian John Fea, quoted in the Washington Post on June 15, 2018, there are two other striking applications in America's history of that passage in Romans being used to glorify authority. In colonial America, it was invoked by loyalists to England who were against the American Revolution. Later, defenders of slavery cited it to justify slavery in opposition to abolitionists who demanded an end to slavery.

The most notorious use of the Romans 13 concept occurred at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Nazis accused of atrocities pleaded the authority defense: "I was just following orders"--a defense that did not save them from the gallows.

But surely in urging Christians to follow authority Paul did not mean submitting to policies that separate children from parents and place them in cages. And I'm guessing that Jesus would not approve of that either.

Moreover, if Jeff Sessions had the patience to read a few sentences ahead in Romans 13 he would have found pesky lines that contradict the basis for his support of Donald Trump's cruel and inhumane immigration policy: "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad" Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval."

Hey Jeff: How about trying "good?" Isn't that what Jesus would advise?

We can't be sure what Jesus actually said since no one has seen an original copy of the Christian Bible. As the biblical scholar Bart Ehrman has noted in his groundbreaking book Misquoting Jesus, copies of the Bible that have come down to us are heirs of sequential individual translations over the centuries from Greek, Coptic, and Latin made by scribes who differed in skills, integrity, and ideology. Aside from scribes injecting their own beliefs, each copy is likely to contain numerous inadvertent copying errors.

Thus it's not surprising, as Bart Ehrman reports, that by the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance there were thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament. And these copies differed from each other in more words cumulatively than the total number of words in the entire New Testament.

The temptation to transform Jesus into one's own image continues today not only by Jeff Sessions. In his book Killing Jesus Bill O'Reilly gave us the Tea Party Jesus. O'Reilly's Jesus, aka Rambo, was an insurrectionist who, along with his band of rebellious followers, was fighting big government and taxation. And a group of conservatives, reports journalist Richard Schiffman, has unashamedly set out to rewrite the Bible, expunging it of "leftist terms," replacing them with words like "capitalism, work ethic, death penalty, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life--all of which are conspicuously missing from those socialist-inspired Bibles we've been reading lately."

What brand of Jesus would Jeff Sessions have given us if he were one of those early scribes? "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27)? That's too vague. What Jesus really meant is love your neighbor as yourself only if your neighbor looks like you, speaks like you, and believes in the same things you believe in. Otherwise, shun, persecute, and terrorize him and his family and drive them away so that they and others like them never come back.

Bible sleuths have documented that some Jesus stories are absent from early translations of the Bible but appear hundreds of years later, which questions their authenticity. But the one thing about Jesus and Christianity that we can be certain of is the reason why early converts, who were mostly slaves and the poor, were drawn to Jesus. They were inspired by his love for all, particularly the oppressed, the vulnerable, and the disadvantaged. Just as in the Judaic tradition Abraham's tent was open to all, Christianity in the name of Jesus represented a safety net of welcome, compassion, and hope--not the brutal punishing authority in the names of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions

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Bernard Starr, PhD, is author of The Crucifixion of Truth, a drama set in 16th century Italy and Spain that captures the themes of this article. He is also author of "Jesus Jews and Anti-Semitism in Art" and "Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the (more...)

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