How Americans hide behind church to support a dictator with biblical verse and silence
“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 the government for his purposes.” – Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney General
The words Sessions quoted were used in the 1840s and 1850s to justify slavery. When abolitionists argued that slavery was cruel, and that separating families was a violation of religious ethics, they were met with the argument of religious compliance with the law.
“Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 19th century, and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing so in this sense there is some continuity, it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda.” – John Fea, history professor at Messiah College
On Sunday, if your church is silent, then you should leave it. Millions of Americans will find themselves in the houses of worship that dot nearly every corner of this country; disparate buildings where they will gather under the guise of religion, of faith, of goodness.
Whether set in trappings that are ancient or modern, filled with polished pews, prayer mats, or plush concert seating, a multitude will leave their homes this weekend and purposefully head to those places to be part of redemptive community that seeks to perpetuate the heart of God in the world, or so the story goes.
You may be among the faithful making this weekly pilgrimage, and whether you have spent a month or a lifetime at your current spiritual home, I am suggesting this might be a good time to leave it. You may need to follow God right out of the building in order to hold on to your soul.
Our country is experiencing a real-time human rights emergency generated by our elected officials; many professing to be pro-life and claiming faith in a dark-skinned refugee Jesus, while allowing migrant families to be ripped apart and children to be housed in kennels and quoting the Bible while they do it.
If there was ever a time when the Church should be visible and vocal it should be now. If there was ever a moment moral leaders were made for, it is this one. If there ever a weekend where spiritual leaders should stand bravely in front of their faithful and speak the hardest of truths, complaint and mass exodus be damned—it should be this one.
But it probably will not happen.
Many of these would-be prophets will be silent, out of cowardice, self-preservation, or worse yet, agreement with the sins of this Administration. They will deftly dance around the conversation and preach around the issues. They will sedate their audiences with flowery, intentionally vague prayers that pretend to speak but actually say nothing.
They will attempt to distract their flocks for an hour or so, and sidestep the urgency outside their buildings, because they don’t have the intestinal fortitude to brave the turbulence that taking bold stands creates.
Many of the professed spiritual leaders in these faith communities will count on people filling their pews and prayer mats and chairs, not caring enough to ask them to speak with absolute clarity about the present crisis against humanity in America.
You cannot let them be right.
Every pastor, priest, minister, rabbi, and imam should be standing before their various tribes of affinity this weekend and specifically naming the atrocities happening to migrant families. They should be explicitly condemning these violations against people supposedly made in the image of their God, and calling their communities to do the same. They should be naming the current President’s immigration policies as fully antithetical to the heart of their faith tradition.
If not, you may want to ask yourself what the point is and why you need to stay another day. You may want to ask yourself what use the religion they espouse there actually is, if not to rescue the most vulnerable from the most powerful, if not to advocate for the least of these, if not to care for their neighbor as themselves.
If your faith leaders can’t find their prophetic voices to defend children caged like animals and isolated from their parents, are they really worth looking to for guidance on how to live one’s faith, know God’s will, or emulate Jesus? If they have silent tongues and feet of clay in these days, why should you remain and nurture such moral impotence?
This is not about protecting the line between Church and State, it is about not separating believing and living. It is about demanding that local churches and their leaders fulfill their greatest calling: delivering the Gospel of Good News to the poor and the orphans and the widows, regardless of the cost.
If you are a member of a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other spiritual gathering place, and the leaders there do not specifically reference children being caged by our government and push back hard against it—you should ask them why they are not.
Ask them directly, and if you are not satisfied with their answer, seriously consider leaving then and there. This may be your greatest spiritual declaration, the most concrete affirmation of your beliefs that you’ll ever make.
If you are keeping company with polite cowards and smiling frauds whose faith is quiet, you may need to empty the pews and exit the buildings, and go loudly speak the words of truth and compassion and justice that need to be spoken right now.
You may need to fill their silent voids with your rafter-shaking voice. You may need to follow your deepest faith convictions right out the door and toward the families assailed in these moments.
If the people of God where you gather will not bring mercy, love, and goodness while such things are in such great demand, that may be your cue to exit.
You may need to leave the church to find your religion.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com