Attorney General Jeff Sessions ignited a public theological debate last week when he used the Bible, specifically Romans 13, to justify the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. He likely took his cues from the White House Bible Study (WHBS), a weekly Bible study for members of the president’s cabinet organized by Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries.
According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, significant staff time and resources go into coordinating the Bible study every week. Documents also show that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who defended the policy during a press conference Monday, is heavily involved with the WHBS. In fact, she’s the only cabinet official whose direct email address appears on the electronic invitations to the WHBS.
The day before Sessions’ remarks last Thursday, the White House Bible Study held a meeting centered on “The Importance of Parenting and the Course of the Nation.” The first paragraphs discuss “obedience to a nation’s laws” and cite Proverbs 28:4 and Romans 1:32 . (There are a number of spelling and Bible citation errors in the packet, including “1 Corinthians 9:27a,” as well as Romans 1:32, which may be a typo intended to cite Romans 13:2, the chapter Sessions used to justify the separation policy.)
The biblical parenting course advocates “corporeal [sic] punishment for wrong doing” because it “is replete throughout Scripture.” Biblical parenting requires that a parent dominate their child from a young age: “A parent must establish authority early on … This is done through spanking.” If you spare the rod, you spoil the child.
This bible-based course also encourages parents to break the will of their children so that they do not become “rebellious toward God.” So many people are rebellious today because “The child never learned the value and fruit of correction at a young age. No one ever broke his self-will and as a result he carries around a rebellious spirit today.”
It’s easy to see how a Wednesday morning Trump cabinet discussion on punishing children and the importance of obeying the law may have given way to a public justification of a policy to rip children away from their parents. This seems even more likely given the pull Drollinger has in the Trump cabinet, as well as his history of authoring Bible study material that uses Christianity to justify punishing undocumented immigrants.
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