Harriet Tubman broke the law, the women suffragettes of Seneca Falls broke the law, Rosa Parks broke the law, MLK broke the law, Jesus broke the law. Breaking the law to create change is the American way, and it is also the Christian way.
The Bible is a compilation of ancient stories, mostly oral stories, written in certain political, linguistic and cultural contexts by scribes. They are stories of humankind’s struggle to make sense of the world. They were not written as histories. They are confusing at times, often contradictory, sometimes violent, but mostly loving — the human condition.
There are no “original” copies of the these stories, only ancient fragments, written down without chapter, verse, sentences or even punctuation. All of that was added 1,500 years after the birth of Jesus.
But what is clear if you read the ancient stories, without picking just one verse to quote, is that we are called to care for those who have the least among us, including the stranger in the land. There are at least 92 stories about welcoming the stranger, there are only about seven verses about following the law of the authorities. And in the verses following the one quoted by Jeff Sessions in Romans 13, Paul ends by saying, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Paul was referencing the same ancient laws of justice for all that Jesus lived and taught and made very clear in Mathew 25: “Come, you that are blessed, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And he answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’”
To pick and choose verses from the Bible for political (or religious) agendas does a huge disservice to the path of justice for all and a way to a peaceful world that the we so desperately need.
Rev. Barb E. Blom, United Church of Christ, is minister at St. Paul’s ELCA in Spencer. (The following also appeared in the Ithaca Journal, June 20, 2018.)