aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Jeff Sessions is right

Jeff Sessions is being excoriated by lots of religious and not-so-religious folk for quoting the Apostle Paul's admonition that properly constituted governments are an instrument of God and generally to be obeyed. Law abiding as a Christian virtue is an old and honorable idea. John Wesley certainly would have advocated it, even when the law was unequally applied and could be said to be unjust in its aim.

Smuggling was rife in the 18th Century on both sides of the Atlantic. (John Hancock was one of many who made a good part of their income from evading duties on imports and exports, which is what smuggling is.) Smuggling was a way of life, particularly in coastal communities. How could the poor live and provide for their families if they didn't participate? Wesley was having none of it. To be a Methodist, to be someone who desired to live in transparent honesty and love before God and Man, meant obeying the law, even if it was to one's own disadvantage.

In the General Rules -- still considered an authoritative part of our doctrinal standards -- the first minimum standard of behavior of a Methodist is, "doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as . . . the buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty." In addition, the 1939 Uniting Conference placed the following in the Articles of Religion, and though it is not covered by the Restrictive Rule, it nevertheless provides guidance for all our members worldwide:
Of the Duty of Christians to the Civil Authority

It is the duty of all Christians, and especially of all Christian ministers, to observe and obey the laws and commands of the governing or supreme authority of the country of which they are citizens or subjects or in which they reside, and to use all laudable means to encourage and enjoin obedience to the powers that be.
The Methodist Movement was instrumental in creating what we call the Middle Class in both England and America, through the phenomenon known as "redemption and lift." People argue about who is, and who is not, in the Middle Class, especially in officially "classless" American society. They cite various income ranges, but being "Middle Class" is not, primarily, an economic status. It is much more a statement of social values.

The Upper and Lower Classes have much the same attitude toward the Law. Neither see law abiding as an important social value for themselves. The Upper Classes assume that laws are for other people. The police are there to protect those with money from those without it. "Our kind of people" are not supposed to be arrested and tried -- and certainly, not sent to prison, regardless of what they've done. How declassé. Meanwhile, the Lower Classes assume that the justice game is rigged against them, and they just hope to avoid contact with it. Obeying the law when it forbids something you want to do -- particularly when it's something that "everybody does" -- is for suckers.

It was the Middle Class that insisted upon "equality before the law." Small companies, Mom-and-Pop operations, should be able to compete against big corporations on a fair basis. Bidding for contracts should be on the basis of what's in your bid, not on Who You Know. The law should apply to everyone the same, including the criminal law. Everyone, high or low, should obey the ordinary laws of the land: "Not for wrath, but for conscience' sake," as our admonition to the clergy upon their ordination to obey church rules puts it. Civil disobedience, while allowable, carries with it certain costs, and those who disobey an unjust law do so counting on being punished for it. Indeed, being publicly punished is the point: that's how you arouse public opinion to change the law. But, generally, the Middle Class see law abiding as a minimum standard of right social behavior.

As regards the debacle of our immigration situation, both parties have connived at lowering reverence for the law. But surely, there is no downside to enforcing the law. If enforcing the law works to restore order and smooth out the situation on the border and throughout our society, then, hooray, it works. In the long run, that will result in a better situation for all those seeking entry. On the other hand, if enforcing the law as written results in situations the people don't like, they can finally elect a Congress that will cooperate in re-writing the law into a form that can and will be enforced because the people approve of it. And that would be good, too. But ignoring the laws on the books and arguing that they shouldn't be enforced -- not on the poor people trying to evade them, nor on the corporations that want to hire those they're not technically allowed to employ -- just results in more confusion and misery.

So: we can debate what our immigration laws ought to be. And we can debate the best ways to enforce those we have. But it stumps me hollow to see Methodist ministers cavil at the very idea of obeying the law. But then, so many of them won't obey the rules of the Church they personally vowed to obey at their ordination, so I guess they don't see the Rule of Law as all that important to social stability and economic opportunity, either.

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