PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — There Is No Moral Defense Of Evil Acts

I will never forget the first time I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., because by the time it was over, I wanted to crawl out of it in shame.

I was a young pastor, serving as the keynote speaker and Bible study leader at a continuing ed event for people who worked with youth, and part of our program included a tour of the Holocaust Museum.

Because I was one of the leaders, I was wearing a clerical collar during the tour, and with each step, the collar became tighter around my neck.

The reason?  Well, simply put, because Lutheran clergy, for the most part, either sided with Hitler, defending his actions or else remained silent. Of the 18,000 Protestant clergy in Germany at the time, only 16 percent said “No” by becoming part of the Confessing Church, that stood in opposition to Hitler and his nationalistic propaganda, lies and destruction.

And the museum did not ignore this fact. It pointed out, vividly, how the Nazis used the Bible to defend their actions and co-opted the church in the process.

Pastor Julius Leutherser embodied the beliefs of so many pastors when he preached, on Aug. 30, 1933, “Christ has come to us through Hitler,” citing the passage from Romans 13 that states, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”  (Rom. 13:1)

The complete misinterpretation of this passage allowed over 80 percent of the clergy in Germany to simply look the other way in the face of the Holocaust.  After all, the leaders and the laws were put in place by God, and who were they to disagree with Adolf Hitler’s favorite passage?

That is why my blood began to boil when I heard U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cite Romans 13 to defend the repugnant decision of the current administration to make a substantial policy shift from previous administrations and forcibly separate parents from their children when they came to the U.S.seeking asylum.

Later in the day, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed his sentiments by saying, “It’s biblical to enforce laws.”

Sessions, Sanders and all those voicing similar views stand on the shoulders of those German pastors who defended Hitler, as well as American preachers who used the same passage to justify first slavery and later Jim Crow laws, when they  turn to Romans 13 specifically and the Bible in general to support immoral acts.

As a pastor, nothing angers me more than people using the Bible to defend actions that would make Jesus weep.

Quoting Scripture to defend something as abhorrent as ripping a 4-month-old baby out of  his mother’s arms, as she pleads for asylum from abuse and violence, is antithetical to everything that Jesus stood for.

After all, Jesus was about an infant when he and his parents fled violence in Bethlehem to become refugees in Egypt. And somehow, I don’t think it would have been good or godly to rip Jesus out of Mary’s arms.

The story of the temptation of Jesus shows that even Satan could quote Scripture for his own benefit. Which is precisely what Sessions was doing.

When people use the Word of God to make evil actions seem justifiable, they are breaking the Second Commandment and using God‘s name in vain. They are using God for their own purpose, defending something that directly defies  the God of love made real in Jesus embrace of those who are rejected and forgotten.

No human with an ounce of compassion or human decency can defend what the U.S. government is doing with the enforcement of a decree from the executive branch to rip small children away from their parents.

It is despicable to muddy the waters even further by throwing the Word of God in to justify it.

The Bible says far more about the care of orphans, widows and strangers in a strange land.  For example, Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

In addition, God is clear that there are unjust laws and warns against those who make them. In  Isaiah 10:1 the prophet writes, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.”

I could go on all day, finding passage after passage that paint a picture of a God of love who cares about the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. Who sides with those who have been abused.

Even if one argues that these people have broken the law, the Bible states clearly that we are to “Remember those who are in prison, as though we are in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourself were being tortured.”  Heb. 13:3.

Breaking the law does not justify acts of cruelty.

Jesus himself was subject was a convicted criminal who was whipped and crucified and whose murder was defended because of a belief that it was “Scriptural to enforce laws.”

This should not be a partisan issue. It isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an issue of what it means to be a decent and just nation.

Since Sessions and Sanders like to reference the Bible, I suggest they reread the book of Amos. It describes what happens to nations that behave like this. It isn’t pretty.

Or perhaps, since they are fond of emphasizing the aspects of the Bible that talk about the law and quoting Romans 13, they might want to read further down, where it says, “The Commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom.13:9-10)

I was filled with shame when I walked out of the Holocaust Museum because I was part of a church whose leadership remained silent in the face of unadulterated evil action.

I will not be quiet now and I will defend the Word of God that is being taken hostage by those who would use it for this vile purpose.

God is clear about the poor and oppressed and always stands on the side of the last, the lost and the least, demanding we treat everyone with love, which is the highest law.

History will not look kindly on those who remain silent. There is no moral defense of evil acts. And there is no ground to remain neutral.

Silence in the face of evil action means you have chosen your side.

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Paula Mehmel

Paula V. Mehmel describes herself as “a radical, evangelical, Lutheran mystic.” After 24 years serving as a pastor in North Dakota, she recently moved to New England, where she serves as senior pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hartford, Conn. A Minnesota native, she holds an undergraduate degree in English and German from Washington University in St. Louis and her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. “Pastor Paula,” as she is widely known, is a popular speaker, writer and proud single mother of two sons who both attend Harvard University. With a passion for serving the last, the lost and the least, Mehmel is a committed community member with a special interest in homelessness, refugee resettlement and addressing issues of sexual violence. She also created a no-cut community theater in Casselton, N.D., to assure herself a small role in the ensemble each summer, fulfilling her desire to sing and dance on stage. One of the many reasons she is thrilled with her recent move is that she is two hours from New York City, where she goes to as many shows on Broadway as possible. Thus far, though, no opportunities to perform. She relishes the opportunity to share her thoughts on anything from social justice to theology to random musings about her latest travel adventures.

5 thoughts on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — There Is No Moral Defense Of Evil Acts”

  1. Far too radical for me. What do you do personally to benefit the homeless in your own home? Do you invite the homeless and feed anyone and everyone on a daily basis with your personal resources? No limit?

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