According to the first online dictionary that comes up with a Google Search [the extent of my research], the first definition of “perversion” is the following: “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.” It is only the second definition that references sexuality specifically, which is, of course, commonly our first association of the word now.
Despite its current sexual connotations, “perversion” is the word that has come to my mind twice now in just a bit over a week, with two stories that are dominating the current news cycle. The first is the wrenching apart of families that is happening at the US/Mexico border, and Jeff Sessions’ use of the Bible, particularly Romans 13, to justify the government’s actions. The second is the decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the president’s travel ban on Muslims.
They are not parallel actions, but I feel strongly that they are related “perversions” of Christian identity, belief and practice. As to the first, at this point, it feels almost redundant to critique Jeff Sessions’ statement [“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…”] because there was such an overwhelming, definitive, persuasive response from so many Christians [and non-Christians who just know inherently and viscerally that such an argument is a fabrication]. What more can be said about such ill-informed lunacy, really?
And, to the second, I can only offer a hearty “AMEN” to Chief Justice Sotomayor’s dissent: read about it here: Sonia Sotomayor dissent.
And at the same time, it feels important to me to add my voice to the choir on both of these issues, given the way that they both are exploiting a gross distortion [or, more pointedly, perversion] of Christianity. The first is more obvious, of course, and carries with it the foul smell of Nazism, perhaps the most egregious example of a state misrepresenting Scripture to justify its own sinful actions.
But the second example also should make Christians stand up and speak out, because it seems to me that this decision is counting on Christian suspicion and ignorance of Islam to bolster support. If Christians can be mobilized to turn their backs on Muslims–or even just to do nothing–then surely the present government can continue with this widespread and systematic religious oppression with impunity. We Christians simply cannot let that happen–not only because once persecution on the grounds of religious identity starts, it is going to continue and other groups also will be targeted; but also because it violates our own foundational, core commitment to love and serve the neighbor, even and especially the non-Christian stranger, to welcome the alien [biblical language, not contemporary political language], and to feed and clothe the needy. It’s not rocket science–it’s Jesus’ explicit command.
Things that have been twisted can be straightened again. Things that have been corrupted can be cleaned. And things that have been perverted can be righted, and set back on track. This feels like the work to which we are called in this moment, bearing witness to what we know about who Jesus is, what he teaches, and the life he makes possible for us all, together: Christians and Muslims, those on the move and those staying in place, and parents and children. All of us, together.