Last week the Justice Department used the Bible to justify the horrific practice of separating children from their parents when families were determined to have entered our country illegally. This is happening even before any consideration is given to the families' claims for seeking asylum from life threatening violence in their home countries. In addition to being an inhuman and abusive practice, Attorney General Sessions compounded this evil by distorting Paul's letter to the Romans in the New Testament. He selectively quoted verses from Romans 13 to justify any action taken by governing authorities. Not only is this a distortion of Scripture, it is also antithetical to our nation's founding principles including the right to oppose unjust laws. In Martin Luther King's Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, he addressed the need and the right to distinguish between just and unjust laws:
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern... One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
For followers of Jesus, Dr. King's distinction between just and unjust laws is crucial. We have a higher loyalty than the dictates of our own government. In this case, it could not be clearer that the practice of separating children from their families is unjust because it "degrades human personality." If those who went before us did not stand up to unjust laws, we would still be living under the oppression of Jim Crow segregation. It is now our turn to stand up for justice and oppose any law or practice that degrades human personality. Contact your national representatives and voice your opposition to this unjust degrading practice. Join with others to lift up your voice and take a stand for justice that "uplifts human personality." Although they are 55 years apart, there is much in common between Birmingham 1963 and the Border 2018. Reflect on the image below as you discern how you will respond to God's call for justice.