In the middle of the Trump Administration’s admittedly cruel decision to separate migrant families crossing the US’ southern border came its claim that it was biblically appropriate to do so. The reasoning? These families (most of them, anyway) are crossing at some illegal point of entry. This is breaking the law, and the Bible says we’re to uphold the law. The scripture used to defend this these claims was Romans 13:1-7.
As you may or may not know, Romans 13:1-7 is Paul’s “'Gloria' to Government,” as he in almost poetic fashion compels his readers and fellow Christ followers to subject themselves to governing authorities, to never resist their dictates lest you be justifiably punished, and to always acknowledge, with gratitude, that your earthly rulers have been selected by God and are even now doing God’s will. Also, always pay your taxes!
While I’m not sure the current Administration would be as enthusiastic about exhorting Paul’s teaching on that final point (at least perhaps, not before the giant GOP Tax Overhaul of late last year), the strategy of mentioning Romans 13 in regards to the aforementioned very controversial immigration law/policy has created uproar upon uproar.
Some critics have said it’s simply and totally inappropriate and irrelevant to bring the Bible into conversations about matters of State.
Others have cited the fact that Romans 13:1-7 has a history of being perversely used to justify heinous governmental laws, like those legitimizing American slavery.
Then there are the verses that surround this section of Paul’s letter to Rome: verses which go as overboard commanding love of neighbor - regardless of the law - as those going overboard to love the law, regardless. In fact, Paul concludes this whole section by saying “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)
The footnote on Romans 13:1-7 in my Harper Collins Study Bible (ed. 1989) reads: “Paul abruptly urges submission of civil authorities; a few scholars think the passage was added to what Paul wrote.” (p. 1927)
Sooo, what’s the conscientious Bible fan to do with Romans 13?
May The Comic Lens suggest, as a starting point, Hogan’s Heroes?
As you may recall, HH was a super popular, super ridiculous, and, for many, super hilarious sit-com about a crackerjack team of WWII Allied spies operating overwhelmingly successfully out of the Nazi POW Camp, Stalag 13. And why did everything go so perfectly for them? Because they most-adroitly POSED as model prisoners. Beyond-model, actually. That’s one of the reasons the show was so funny. The other reason was…the officers of Stalag 13 were such incompetent boobs. Even their higher ups at Nazi Headquarters knew Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz were completely hapless, but because Stalag 13 had the otherwise enviable reputation of never allowing a prisoner to escape (that they know of!), no changes could or seemingly needed to be made.
That’s what makes this segment of HH so funny! In this episode, Hogan et al have started looking a little too perfect to Nazi authorities, so they need to start toning it down and cranking up a little observable insubordination….
Hogan’s Heroes comes to mind when looking for a way to tie together Romans 13:1-7 and the seemingly oppositional verses before and after.
It’s important to remember that except for 13:1-7, Paul NEVER showed any interest in giving deference to Rome. In fact, his insistence Christian’s cry “Jesus is Lord!” was a direct refutation of the edict everyone cry “Caesar is Lord!” when the Imperial Chariot passed by. Paul mocked the the Empire’s prized “Pax Romana” in 1 Thessalonians when he says Rome’s promise of endless “peace and security” will crumble in chaos when Christ comes again. He writes his letter to the church in Rome most probably from a jail in Jerusalem where he’s once again imprisoned for preaching the Gospel (an act subversive enough to previously get Jesus crucified). Most scholars think it’s in this Jerusalem jail Paul is finally executed, for such crimes against the state.
Perhaps Paul’s sudden and baffling “change of heart” in 13:1-7 is more about telling the Roman church to look like you are a model Roman citizen (or slave). That way, the Empire doesn’t bother you or your community’s efforts to create, through scandalously unbounded love, an alternative and superior realm of compassion and justice right under Rome’s nose. Ha ha ha! And those Aquiline Authorities thought they were unconquerable! What a bunch of boobs we Christians are going to show them to be!!!
I have no idea if anything as ridiculously hilarious as Hogan’s Heroes was what Paul had in mind, if indeed Romans 13:1-7 did come from his pen. In any case, however, it’s fun to think he might have been suggesting something that devilishly Divine!
In any case, I think this conversation provides helpful inspiration and input for what’s going on today.
As we look to the present time, when tempers are especially flaring for all that feels so increasingly egregiously wrong; when our governmental authorities continue to stoke for both their base and their battlers words and behaviors that anger, infuriate, and aggressively engage; and we wonder what the Christian response can and should be...perhaps the (possible) strategy of Paul - and the definite strategy of Hogan’s Heroes - can and should be taken to heart. Maybe we’re to play absolutely nice while simultaneously, successfully, and cleverly, undermining everything we find morally bankrupt and unjust….
Last week, in the midst of the furor over Sarah Huckabee Sander’s ejection from the Red Hen restaurant and furor all over the place about what to do next to “take down the Man,” a friend posted this suggestion about how the Red Hen matter could have/should have been handled:
Imo, the more we invent, especially in the feverish climes of today’s political temper, ways of standing for morality and justice that are surprising, ingenious, tinged with at least a bit of sardonic humor, easily realizable, and, on top of everything, 100% civil - more 100% civil even - we will win both the battle and the war. Peacefully, even joyfully, and for all.
This, says The Comic Lens, is one of the pervasive messages of our Bible. Even if such suggestion has no place in official conversations of American affairs of State, may scripture’s subversive, life-giving strategies bleed through! Via goofy 1960’s tv if need be!! :)