As July 4 draws near, we have an opportunity to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy and the complicated road our ancestors traveled toward independence and democracy. I hope many of you are finding joy in the blessings of summer and time with family and friends, as we give thanks for the freedom we are so privileged to share.
The celebration of our national holiday also provides a challenging backdrop for current affairs. Conversations about immigration, travel bans, and Supreme Court appointments are never “just political.” As people of faith, we think about these matters through the lens of our faith. And fortunately or unfortunately, there is never just one way to think theologically.
This past week, the Wisconsin Council of Churches (of which the Wisconsin Conference UCC is a member) presented a statement titled, “On The Misuse of Scripture to Justify Injustice”. I thought I would share a few excerpts from this statement, not expecting all will agree about these matters, but to demonstrate how the church and state are often and always in conversation, in ways we may not even realize.
…We, the members of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, have covenanted “to pray and work together for the unity and renewal of the church and the healing and reconciliation of the world.” That means, whenever possible, we will strive to give clear expression to the Christian faith that unites us, especially when that faith has been publicly perverted or maligned, and stand with the weak and powerless when they are being exploited, maltreated or neglected – especially by those who are officially responsible for the public welfare.
We are especially concerned with the Attorney General’s appeal to scripture to support the policy of separating parents from their children, and by extension, the indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants and the rejection of asylum seekers.
The Attorney General appeals to Paul’s statement in Romans 13:1: “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.”
We reject this theological misrepresentation of Scripture, specifically, and of Christian teaching about the State, generally, in justification of such obvious injustice.
This verse has been used in many contexts: by Nazis demanding that Christians submit to and participate in the genocide of Jews; by South African Christians defending the injustice of Apartheid; by American Christians defending the institution of slavery. The historical echoes are profoundly disturbing and we call the church and society to attend, that the past not be repeated.
The Apostle Paul, author of these words, was himself imprisoned and executed by the Roman Empire. He wrote this sentence in a larger context, in a letter written to Christians in Rome, who were an illicit community and in danger of persecution. He wrote it as part of a larger argument that includes not only his insistence that governmental authority is ordained by God but that such authority has its limits.
…We declare that our common Christian witness is imperiled by inauthentic Christian teaching in the public square, and the church’s own limited, episodic responses to injustice. When Christian teaching is perverted by those in governance and that twisting of scripture is allowed by the Christian community, we stand in a dangerous place.
…It is not only the government which bears responsibility for a just society; the voice of the people addressing their government, the witness of the Church and its prophetic voice offered in encouragement and admonition must not be absent. We must not only speak a Word into these perilous times, but be ready to act, as well.
…We call on the members of our congregations, lawmakers, and people of good will to rise up in protest against this injustice, to ensure that people seeking asylum, refugees, immigrants hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families, be welcomed, embraced, and allowed to help make this a better, more inclusive and diverse, stronger nation.
I am grateful not only to be a citizen of this beautiful United States of America, but to be a part of a faith tradition that challenges me everyday, to think more deeply about how faith informs my view of the world. Again, I share this letter not anticipating full agreement, but to add to the discourse many of us as people of faith are likely having these days. May God truly bless our country – especially with wise leaders and faithful citizens, whose collective words and actions will work together to move us all forward.
Your friend and fellow servant,
Pastor Kathryn Kuhn
The full text of the Wisconsin Council of Churches statement can be found at: https://www.wichurches.org/