Monday, April 15, 2013

Submission to authority I like

Or that looks like me or helps me ‘other’ people I don’t like

This morning's Morning Edition was full of great stuff! As I drove in I was particularly struck by a story about Evangelicals trying to soften hearts on overhauling immigration. (You can read and listen to the story here.) Hearing the reporter mention Romans as why Evangelicals have resisted comprehensive immigration reform stirred memories I’d forgotten. The argument has gone, from a religious perspective, that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be granted amnesty or given a path to citizenship because they’ve broken the law. They should be punished and believers must submit to authorities. Since these immigrants haven’t submitted, clearly they aren’t Christians.

I wonder, however, why this convenience of submission to authority is called on — by people in then pews, not just at the higher levels — when they like the call to submit to civil authorities, but not when they like it. The passage from Romans the reporter mentions is 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.” (NRSV)

Growing up, the call to render to Caesar was one that was heeded and talked about. We were taught that we had to respect our civil authorities, even if we didn’t like them — which was certainly the case in my Southern Baptist church in Alabama during the Clinton Administration. I have heard, from religious conservatives, the argument about not passing comprehensive immigration reform because it rewards law-breakers, and so they can't support it on religious grounds of the law needing to matter.

Yes, laws need to matter, but where is the law not mattering because people don’t like it, particularly the same people who are willing to speak far too publicly about how their understanding of Christianity should dictate public life. I don’t see those opposed to immigration reform calling on Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to enforce portions of the Affordable Care Act that deal with consumer protection when he’s said he won’t.

For the last few years many Alabamians have rallied behind Chief Justice Roy Moore precisely because he wouldn’t submit to authority and was removed from office for it. He has his job back and hasn’t seemed to try to create any major actions, but my recollection of 2003 was that those who identified most with Chief Justice Moore as the true Christians were the ones who supported him the most — because they saw him standing up for what he believes in.

Standing up for what one believes in is a good thing. I support civil disobedience when it’s well thought out and not just doing what whatever you want, but working for an issue of justice. My problem with the “I’m just standing up for what I believe in,” argument is when it really hurts and impinges on others. Using a perceived non-submission to authorities by undocumented immigrants while tolerating elected officials of your own faith tradition’s non-submission to authorities is inconsistent.

I’m glad that some leaders in Evangelical circles are working for immigration reform and trying to tell their stories about how and why. I guess I don’t really understand how it’s taken this long, although I find the spokesperson from the Evangelical Free Church in the NPR article telling: people want to know how to get Hispanic votes, so now it’s a good thing to support immigration reform. I don’t think this is about seeing people as people who are different. Romans 13 has been used for othering in this conversation — “It's okay for Roy Moore because I like him, but it’s not okay for immigrants because I don’t like them and they’re different than I am.”

I grew up in the midst of the Evangelical culture and mindset. I am struggling as an adult to hear how the need for submission to authority in Romans related to a fear for amnesty for undocumented immigrants when grace is something that can be preached on ad naseum in these churches, as well it should be. Sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer have to deal with “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” but that can’t seem to carry over to people who entered the country illegally (and there’s never any conversation about why or what might be wrong with the system).

Why is it okay to tolerate Roy Moore’s breaking the law (and even support) when Romans 13.1 is your foundation for rejecting comprehensive immigration reform from a faith perspective? If you're going to claim Biblical literalism for immigration, abortion (as related to portions of the Affordable Care Act), and LGBT (in)equality, you have to have a higher standard for your own leaders. It’s not okay to make the people you don’t like live by a standard you won’t hold people you do like to — particularly when you’re trying to force a great many of your standards on a whole lot of people not like you.

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