By Bob Smietana
For a few hours on Thursday, politics and religion did mix.
And everyone, it seems, was reading the Bible.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 in defending the government’s policy of separating families who cross the border seeking asylum, in a speech to law enforcement officers.
That policy—and other immigration policies—have been criticized by religious groups from the Southern Baptist Convention to the U.S. Catholic bishops.
“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 the government for his purposes,” Sessions said, according to the Washington Post. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
His remarks—and similar remarks from the White House press secretary—set off a wave of Bible reading.
The Bible was the top trending topic on Twitter for three hours Thursday evening, according to Trends24.in.
Romans 13 was the most popular Bible verse on Twitter for a few hours as well.
Meanwhile Bible Gateway, one of the most popular online Bible sites, experienced a spike in traffic.
Searches for keywords like Romans 13, child, and family were “three times higher yesterday (June 14) than they normally are,” said Jonathan Peterson, marketing manager for Bible Gateway.
Few religious groups or leaders seemed to agree with Sessions’ use of Romans 13—or with separating children from their parents at the border.
“It’s disgraceful,” Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, told CBN. “It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”
Johnnie Moore, founder of the KAIROS Company and spokesman for President Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board, told the Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein, “While Sessions may take the Bible seriously, in this situation he has demonstrated he is no theologian,” she reported on Twitter.
— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) June 15, 2018
It’s the first time since the 1850s that Romans 13 has had much attention in the news, says Yoni Appelbaum, the ideas editor at The Atlantic.
Looking at data from Americanpublicbible.com, Appelbaum found Romans 13 was often cited in newspapers during debates over slavery but rarely afterward.
The American Public Bible site looked at 11 million newspaper pages, searching for the Bible quote.
Click on “Top 10 verses” and the first on the list is Luke 18:16: “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”
While most Americans own a Bible—and most own a few—about a third never read it, according to a 2017 Lifeway Research study. About a quarter read a little bit of the Bible every day.
- Americans Say the Bible is a Good Book, But Not Good Enough to Pick Up
- What Bible Verses Were Americans Googling on Election Day?
- White Evangelicals Most Hesitant to See U.S. Refugee Responsibility
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.