When I read an article in Thursday’s online edition of the Washington Post, I knew I had to say something. The subject of the article relates exactly to and exemplifies what I’ve been writing about and the story I have been telling and will continue to tell. The title of the article caught my attention: “Sarah Huckabee Sanders Cites Bible As Reason To Detain Immigrant Children.”
Those of you who know of the speaking, teaching, and training I have been doing on the impact of child trauma and of my work as a child advocate with CASA will understand why this article stopped me in my tracks. After reading it, I started tracking related reports of what had actually been said. I pulled up another Post article detailing what Jeff Sessions had said since Sanders was agreeing with him in answering a question. I wanted to be sure I got as clear a picture as possible.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions declared in a speech to law enforcement officers on Thursday. When asked in a White House briefing about what Sessions had said, Sarah responded, “It is very biblical to enforce the law, that is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.” She, like Sessions, offered Romans 13 and other unspecified passages throughout the Bible as her “proof.”
Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is going to be an argument about politics; that’s not where I’m going with this. What I cannot let pass without addressing it is the appeal to the Bible as the authority for the action being taken.
What both Sanders and Sessions are doing is proof texting – taking a position on an issue then pulling out verses or passages in the Bible that, taken at face value without regard to context, can appear to support that position. When people try to argue their point using proof texting, they oversimplify the subject; conclusions drawn are usually without substance and often simply not true.
Now, it would be foolish for me to engage in a proof texting argument with Sarah Huckabee Sanders; it would be pointless and a waste of time. But if I did decide to counter what she said, my response would look something like this:
“Hold on just a minute, Sarah. You just took a position taken by the government, one that you feel the need to defend, then you used the Bible to justify that position. That approach doesn’t hold water, but suppose I let you get by with using it, just this once. You say it is ‘very biblical to enforce the law.’ I’ve got some questions about that. Let’s take the story told in the first chapter of Exodus. The king of Egypt felt threatened because the Hebrews, immigrants to the land of Egypt, were getting too numerous and too powerful. So he made a law requiring the midwives to kill all male babies born to the Hebrews. The midwives refused to obey the law. Why? Because ‘the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.’ The result was that God ‘dealt well with the midwives,’ and Moses survived—I think we both know how important that turned out to be. Now, are you telling me you believe what those midwives did was wrong because they went against authority, against the law? Are you really willing to disagree with God on this?
“And what about those who hid Jews in Germany when they were facing extermination? The law was clear: all Jews were to be turned over to the authorities. Would you contend that God frowned upon the actions of those who defied that law and saved lives because they did not obey authority? Do you really believe that coming under authority, that following a chain of command, is the guiding principle of the Bible, and is the one that speaks loudest in this instance?”
I could go on, citing Jim Crow laws and other examples, but I won’t. I think you get my point. Sanders used an appeal to the Bible in an attempt to give her position “God ordained” sanction, just as Reverend Palmer did in his 1860 Thanksgiving Sermon on slavery, a sermon that proved so persuasive that it shifted the state of Louisiana toward secession (see my blogpost titled “We Hold This Trust From God”).
While I have no knowledge of what was behind Palmer’s unwavering belief in the God-ordered nature of slavery, I do know something about Sarah Huckabee Sanders that gives me insight into why she can so willingly offer unquestioning obedience to those she sees as being in authority. Like so many tens of thousands of others, Sarah’s thinking was shaped by the teachings of Bill Gothard through his homeschool program, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). I could tell you about what that was like, but I would be giving you second-hand information and couldn’t do it justice. It would be better if you read about it from someone who has been there and knows from experience. I strongly urge you to take a few minutes to read this account given by Micah J. Murray in his article titled “Growing Up In Gothard’s Homeschool Cult” (Huffington Post; originally posted May 6, 2014; updated December 6, 2017). Here’s the link to Micah’s story: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/micah-j-murray/growing-up-in-bill-gothar_b_5228166.html
This is the kind of teaching Sarah was steeped in as a child; to what extent, I don’t know. How do I know this? Because her father, Mike Huckabee, told me. It was in the mid-1990s, in Colorado Springs, CO, at the national conference for the National Day of Prayer. I was then serving as TN State Coordinator for the National Day of Prayer and had been asked to lead a workshop for the conference. Huckabee was Lt. Governor of the state of Arkansas at the time, and was a keynote speaker for the conference. I found myself in an elevator with him, and we talked a little about mutual friends. He told me he was using the ATI program to homeschool his children, and was very enthusiastic about the program and Gothard’s teachings. It hadn’t been long since the counselor had told me the story about what had occurred in the Gothard organization that I mentioned in my letter to Beth Moore. When Huckabee praised ATI, I inwardly cringed. This “theology” has dramatically influenced the thinking of present-day Evangelicals. It’s time for all of us to re-evaluate our thinking.
There’s one last thing I want to say about the issue being addressed in that initial article about the children. If I were going to argue that issue, I would approach it from the perspective of the devastating impact separating children from their parents in this way has on the children. I would point to the vast amount of knowledge that has been gained about the lifelong health consequences—both physical and mental—of subjecting children to this kind of trauma. I would make a strong case for this practice to stop, for families to be reunited, to be kept together as a family when detained. I would point out that this practice is not a matter of law, that while there is a law saying people who enter the U.S. illegally are to be detained, there is NO LAW requiring children to be separated from their parents. I would argue that what is being done to these children, to these families, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And I can assure you my argument would have substance, that it would be able to stand on its on merit without any need to resort to biblical proof texting.
And if I were going to speak to those who are followers of Jesus about this issue, I would once again point them not to the guiding principle of order and authority, but to a different guiding principle, one that I believe is more consistent with the message Jesus proclaimed. Faithfully pursue justice while extending mercy. I would ask them to keep this thought in mind as they consider what position they will take on how these families should be treated. And most of all, I would ask them to consider the way of love—for God, and for other people. After all, that’s what Jesus’ message boils down to; he said so himself. This is what I would say, and in fact, am saying to those who desire to follow his way. Remember: justice matters, and that’s not always the same as the law of the land.
 Exodus 1:17, NRSV
 See my blogpost titled “The Wonderful Thing About Sneetches”