The top religious advisor to President Donald Trump defended his policies on detaining immigrant children, claiming Jesus never broke the law. Rather than an aberration, Paula White, the Florida megachurch “prosperity gospel” preacher, demonstrated the feel-good theology of too many Americans that prioritizes order over morality.
told Pat Robertson’s CBN this week. “Yes, he did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If he had broken the law then he would have been sinful and he would not have been our Messiah.”“I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee,’” White, who chairs Trump’s “evangelical” advisory board,
White’s mindset echoes that of an earlier generation of Southern white Christians that criticized Martin Luther King Jr. for breaking the law. Without questioning the morality of the laws that upheld segregation, that generation of white Christians condemned the Baptist prophet who dared to obey God’s laws over people’s laws.
This reading of scriptures misses the fact that many of the famed prophets of the Old Testament challenged authority and even broke laws. Consider, for instance, Daniel refusing to pray to the king and therefore being tossed into the lion’s den. Did Daniel sin because he broke the law? Actually, the moral of the story is precisely the opposite: Daniel did not sin because he broke the law. The real prophets were not those who hung out in the king’s court preaching a false gospel of prosperity.
The story of baby Jesus as a refugee occurred not because of spiritual concerns, but due to the political demand of a bloodthirsty political ruler. Like the brave Hebrew midwives who faithfully disobeyed a pharaoh’s demand to kill newborn boys back in the time of Moses, Joseph and Mary circumvented Herod’s edit. And, by the way, baby Jesus was no more responsible for their actions than are the young immigrants whose parents bring them to the U.S. today — despite White’s implication that such children are law-breakers and sinners due simply to the actions of their parents.
Perhaps she and others have too spiritualized the teachings of Jesus. Why does she think Jesus ended up on a cross? The Romans didn’t care about his divinity. They used crucifixion for political guerrillas that threatened to upset their ruling order. Revolutions in those days sometimes ended with thousands of would-be overthrowers nailed to crosses. With Jesus claiming to be “son of God,” “Messiah” and “Lord” — terms Romans used to describe their emperor — his rhetoric about leading a “kingdom” offered a direct challenge to the political authority of Romans. It should be no surprise he ended up on a cross.
Unfortunately, many of our English translations of the Bible help us miss this connection. Consider the King James Version account in Mark 15 as Jesus is crucified between two “thieves” (v. 27). Some translations use similar words like “robbers” and “criminals.” Yet, earlier in the passage, Barabbas is referred to as someone who had “committed murder in the insurrection” (v. 7). Is this a band of thieves or an insurrectionist group? Some versions do better, such as the New International Version that calls the two on the crosses “rebels” while other translations call them “revolutionaries.”
This translation difference impacts how we read the passage. If Jesus was crucified between two thieves, we can say to ourselves, “Well, Jesus wasn’t a thief so he’s clearly an innocent man being killed.” But, if he was crucified between two rebels and in the place of the key rebel, then we have to ask, “Why would the government kill Jesus like a rebel unless he was actually seen as a threat to their power?”
Jesus broke the law. And we should say “hallelujah” because that led to the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus refused to submit to Caesar, refused to call Caesar “Lord,” “Messiah” or “son of God.” Was that a sin? No. When the king demands blasphemy, breaking the law is faithfulness. When the law is immoral, sinfulness is supporting the powers that created those laws.
Until we figure that out, we will remain slaves to the law. But the law cannot save us.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way.