Diocese of Orange Bishops: On taking human persons (and Holy Scripture) out of context

God wants the flourishing, not separation, of migrant and refugee families.

God wants the flourishing of families. God wants the flourishing, not separation, of migrant and refugee families. All too often families are torn apart by war, famine, poverty, gang violence, domestic violence, and, sadly, our nation’s immigration policies. As followers of Jesus, and Catholic leaders, we call upon the people of God and our nation’s leaders to love our neighbors, to tell the truth, and to journey together with respect for human dignity and the common good.

Recently, the Trump Administration began a zero tolerance policy regarding the prosecution of illegal entry into the United States. The result of this policy has been the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents. This immoral policy galvanized the faithful and secular society alike to raise our common voices in solidarity against this practice. Today, the Trump Administration announced that it has amended its practice of family separation and will now house families together as they await their court hearings. The newly adopted policy of holding families together indefinitely is also problematic and objectionable given it does not address the families already separated and does not address the many inequities present within the current system, but we are heartened that these marginalized families will not be torn apart by the direct action of our government.

In defending the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Holy Scriptures (Romans 13) to justify separating parents from their children at the border. As the Diocese of Orange, we feel it is important to address the misuse of Scripture to promote injustice and demand support for an immoral action. No credible Scripture scholar, commentary, or theologian would ever support such an interpretation.

When reading Romans 13 one must reckon with its historical misuse in the U.S. to support slavery and in Nazi Germany to support Adolf Hitler, to cite just two sad examples. All kinds of scripture can and have been used by people to justify atrocities and to whitewash the tombs (Matthew 23:27). It is, of course, convenient for any government to find a Bible passage that purports to encourage unquestioned allegiance and obedience. In the wake of the ‘legal’ killing of Jesus by the Romans in collaboration with some of the religious authorities, Peter and the apostles declared clearly: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York himself recently referred to this in a recent interview on the subject.

Romans 13 gives us an idea of the radically counter-cultural way that early Christians lived in the midst of the Roman Empire. Our way of life was so different, so revolutionary, that we needed to be reminded to pay taxes for the sake of the common good. We cannot understand the admonition to obedience in authority without the broader context of Romans 12 and 13. Take some time to read these two chapters together. They are beautiful. Read together they present the vision of The Way to which we are called:

  • We are called not to conform ourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind (the mind of Christ)
  • We are not to think of ourselves more highly than others
  • We are to remember that we are members together in the one Body of Christ
  • We have different gifts according to grace and we need one another
  • We are to love one another with mutual affection
  • We are to contribute to one another’s needs and exercise hospitality
  • We are to associate with the lowly
  • We do not repay anyone evil for evil
  • We love (materially: feed, give something to drink) our enemies
  • We do no evil to our neighbors, for “love is the fulfillment of the law”

Conformity to the coming Reign of God may require opposition to laws and practices which run counter to God’s ways (St. Augustine famously wrote that “an unjust law is no law at all”). Obedience and justice are demanded also of those who are in positions of authority. We live this way because the time of salvation is near and the day of the Lord is at hand. To live this way is to anticipate the kingdom of God that is coming into the world.

We catch glimpses of this kingdom all around us, at a parish festival, a community celebration, and families at table together. A pair of recent articles caught our eye specific to the positive impact immigrants have in our communities. One described how small towns across the country which have seen a resurgence and rejuvenation due to Mexican immigrants are now seeing declines again as detentions, deportations, and fear have increased. Another reported on a town in Tennessee where a large immigration work raid took place and recounted how the community came to their defense, recognizing the humanity and the membership they all share for the common good.

Orange County is the dynamic, diverse, and wonderful place it is to live today because of the many refugees and immigrants that have made their home here over many years. The vibrant life of our county is a living testimony to this. At our best, we refuse the blame-game and figure out how we can work together for the common good, the dignity of the human person, and the flourishing of all of our families.

We invite you us in prayer, together with Archbishop Gomez, Sunday, June 24, for a Regional Mass for All Immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at 4 p.m. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to pray together in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters together and call on our society to find a better path forward, rooted in the divine Mercy of Christ.

 

The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange

The Most Rev. Timothy Freyer, Auxiliary Bishop of Orange

The Most Rev. Thanh Thai Nguyen, Auxiliary Bishop of Orange