In Defense of Romans 13

This past week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 as a defense for the government’s policy of separating parents from children in some circumstances when they’re caught crossing the border illegally. If we’re going to be a nation of laws, I see value in enforcing those laws. I want to change our immigration laws, but if enforcing our laws causes hardship for lawbreakers, that may be an unfortunate but necessary reality. I do have a big problem with Jeff Sessions citing the Bible to justify his policy however.

If the best defense of a policy is to weaponize a passage of the Bible, intentionally taking it out of context for your advantage, then what you’re defending is a bad policy.

Romans 13 was written by an oppressed racial and religious minority, to a group of oppressed minorities. It was not written to a group of people in authority so that they could lord it over those under their power. It was written to provide counsel and comfort to a group of subjugated people who were dealing with a government which enforced unjust policies designed to hurt them and their families.

Romans 13 was written for hurting people dealing with an authoritarian government.

The portion Jeff Sessions is likely cherry-picking reads: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

The “Book of Romans,” as we know it, was written as a letter in 57 AD, by Paul to a group of new Christians in Rome. Paul didn’t sit down to write a book of the Bible, he wrote a letter to his friends. A few hundred years later, in 367 AD, this letter would be compiled with other books and letters to become the Bible.

Paul’s friends in Rome were new believers in Jesus. As such, they were subject to persecution by the Roman Empire. Paul wrote to them to advise them on how to deal with suddenly being treated like the scum of the earth.

Paul knew what it was to be in authority and he knew what it was to be oppressed. As a Jew in the Roman Empire, living in occupied Israel, he knew the oppression of the Romans for his entire life. The Romans unfairly taxed and abused the people living in Israel, as they did with people living in all of the conquered territories in their empire.

Before Paul had an encounter with Jesus, however, he was a leader among Jews, and a Roman citizen despite his Jewish heritage. He was well-respected and exercised authority within the Jewish religious system. But when he encountered Jesus his life changed radically, he gave up his position of authority and became an outcast, under constant threat of mob justice and government authorities.  For the rest of his life, he not only suffered as a Jew in the Roman Empire, but also suffered at the hands of his Jewish brothers who rejected him for his faith in Jesus. He spent the remainder of his life beaten, tortured, imprisoned and was eventually beheaded by the Roman Empire.

This is the Paul who writes this letter.  These people in Rome had voluntarily chosen to become outcasts to follow Jesus, to become subject to persecution—such is the value of their faith.

The new “Christians” in Rome have a lot of questions. Should they continue to pay taxes to a government which treats them, and others, with such injustice? If Jesus is their King and supreme authority, should they rebel against the government?

And Romans 13 doesn’t stand alone. Paul didn’t put those numbers in Romans, those chapter numbers were helpful tools added around 1551 AD. They’re helpful, but they’re not starting and stopping points.

The larger section of Romans around chapter 13 is instructions on when and how to fight with others. And the answer, according to Paul who would later die for his faith, is never. Jesus is never an excuse to hurt anyone, to treat anyone poorly, or to break the law, whether in authority or oppressed.

Paul is exhorting the recipients of his letter, an oppressed minority population, to have faith—specifically to have faith in God to fight the big battles. He’s telling them that it’s OK to follow the law, that God will be in charge of the authorities set up on the Earth. And in fact, Paul was right. God wins that battle, the Roman empire did convert miraculously to Christianity.

Jeff Sessions is not an oppressed person, he is a person in authority. He has weaponized a verse of the Bible, just as many slave owners did, that does not apply to him.

I cannot imagine how any person with a relationship with Jesus could possibly think to stand in authority and use Romans 13 as a “sit down and shut up” excuse for their authority.

On the contrary, Paul had different advice for men in authority. When he wrote a letter to his friends in Ephesus (aka The Book of Ephesians), he told them “Treat your slaves in the same way [with respect and fear, sincerity of heart, just as you would treat Christ, doing the will of God from your heart]. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9)

I wish Paul had said “Masters, free your slaves.” But instead his message is, you live in a world of masters and slaves, but you should personally behave as if all are equal.

It is OK for our nation to have laws. If we have laws, I believe we should enforce them.  While we should make every effort to limit the fallout of the consequences of those laws on children, it is an unfortunate reality that lawbreakers, in any context, victimize their families.

But using the Bible as a weapon to justify power is wrong. We have many bad laws which do not reflect the total message of Jesus. I don’t expect my government to conform to the Bible, but as a Christian I will advocate for a government that treats people as Jesus would, a government that looks more like the Kingdom of God.

As a citizen of this republic, I will heed Paul’s advice to exercise my authority to find a better way to treat these oppressed people. While I hope the oppressed find comfort and good counsel in Romans, I will not use the Bible to justify my position of authority, nor will I stand behind anyone who does.

When we read this section of Romans (chapters 12 and 13) from the perspective of a group of oppressed people who are hurting, who want justice, who want to take action against an authoritarian government, it’s completely different (my paraphrasing from the NIV):

“I urge you brothers to offer your bodies as living sacrifices…this is a spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves…Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people in need. Practice hospitality.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another…Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. Because God said ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’ Your job is different, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…It is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except your continuing debt to love one another…

“The night is nearly over, the day is almost here.”

Photo by Melissa Pauquette – used with permission.

The Husband by Aaron Daniel Behr – Honest, Vulnerable Christian Literature

The landscape of Christian literature, and of Christian discussion generally, lacks an honesty.

There’s a difference between telling the truth and honesty.  Telling the truth is the virtue of speaking accurately, honesty is the virtue of presenting all of the truth.

Two people can tell the truth, they can each speak accurately, objectively even, but paint two very different pictures of the same event.  To win in the marketing industry is to find a way to be the most dishonest without saying anything untrue.

Honesty, on the other hand, is to present the whole truth, the whole context. When your spouse says “Be honest with me…” she’s not asking you to make an accurate statement, she’s imploring you to tell her everything, even to divulge your most unflattering motivations.

To be honest as a writer is challenging.  Telling the truth is easy, but there’s no cross examination in a book or an essay, it is the writer’s liberty to craft a single-sided argument, to tell true things which support the narrative and leave out the rest.

The Husband by Aaron Daniel BehrAaron Daniel Behr, however, has achieved a triumph of honesty with The Husband.  The book recounts the true (there’s that word again) story of his wife’s adultery and demand for a divorce and Aaron’s journey to cope with his mental illness,  Aaron has surely not presented every side of the events.  Such a book would be cumbersome and ultimately very boring.  But he has plainly and intentionally left the cracks in his own narrative, like tilted mini blinds, so that you can see through to the other side of the story.

As his developmental editor, it was my pleasure to work with Aaron to guide him as he refined and crafted The Husband.  I can truthfully say that he achieved so much in this narrative and it is an excellent book. And I can honestly say that the book reached a quality level that far surpassed my highest hopes. This book belongs on the shelf next to Donald Miller.

I’ve read Christian testimonial type literature before. The format is simple: I was broken (the more broken the better), then I met Jesus and now I’m fixed.  There’s a truth to that, and without a doubt, those stories are useful.

But The Husband is different, and I’ve never read anything quite like it before.  Aaron, narrating his own story, knows Jesus from start to finish, but he’s still stuck in this world of sin—his own brokenness and the brokenness of those around him.  Aaron recounts that as he prepared to hang himself from the home gym in his basement, one of his last actions was to search for an article online that told him suicide wouldn’t send him to hell.  His faith is present throughout, and it’s in tact, but he is not fixed. His life is not fixed.  His faith is not the climax of the story, it’s the premise.

Being a Christian is hard. How do we reconcile the ways other Christians hurt us with our understanding of Biblical community? How do we reconcile our sin towards others with the idea of God living inside of us?  How do we cope with our own mental illness, when the Bible promises that Jesus will make us a new creation? This is the stuff of being a real Christian.  These are the questions that separate the Sunday-morning box checkers, from the followers of Jesus trying to live His kingdom on earth.  Our faith is lived in the hard questions.

We need more books like The Husband. We need more Christian authors like Aaron Daniel Behr.

The Husband was released by Columbus Press on January 23. It is available on Amazon,, iTunes, and Kobo, among other retailers.

Learn more about The Husband here, or learn more about Aaron at

Y-Bridge Arts Festival Writers Showcase

I’ll be hosting a Writers and Poets Showcase at the Y-Bridge Arts Festival in Zanesville, Ohio on Friday, August 5, 2016 from 6 to 8pm.

I still have a couple of 10-minute slots available for writers and poets.  Preference goes to Muskingum Valley residents, but all are encouraged to apply.

Learn more about the festival here, or on Facebook here.

Please contact me ASAP if you’re interested in reading at

Download Sejal for Free for Kindle

Sejal: The Walk for WaterThis week only you can download my novelette, Sejal: The Walk for Water for your Kindle for free.  Check it out on Amazon here.

Of course, you can always download Sejal for free, but this is a convenient way to get it directly on your Kindle.

Sejal is always a tough thing for me to promote.  I’m not interested in making it a best-selling book, I just want more people to be aware of the water crisis in India.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep those lines straight, and know what’s appropriate and what’s not when promoting a book like this.  I don’t want it be about me, not even by accident, so I too-often default to not push the book.

I hope that the Kindle giveaway will expose more people to the story.  If you can help by sharing the link, that would be fantastic.  Together, we can expose more readers to the water crisis and facilitate action on this issue.

My friend Heather Shaw, who is an extremely talented writer, left a review on Goodreads.  Here’s my favorite excerpt: Before I read this book, I knew, in theory, that clean water supply was a problem for people around the world. But now I have a face, a village, a story to help me translate those statistics into a human reality. Though Sejal is a fictional character, she and her village are vividly imagined and intimately described. As with all excellent fiction, the reader identifies with Sejal’s humanity and shares her experience, and you cannot come to the end without caring deeply about the life-changing significance of a single well.

I hope this is true for lots of readers, and I hope it inspires real action.

If you’ve already read Sejal, please consider leaving an honest review on or today (click the links respectively to find the book).  Community reviews are a great way to expose new readers to books that you find important, whether it’s this one or other great books you’ve read.

Thank you so much to everyone who has read Sejal, and even more so to folks who have taken action and/or given financially to resolve the water crisis in India and around the world.  A single well makes such a huge difference for real live human beings, and it starts changing lives immediately.

Download and share Sejal: The Walk for Water for free on Amazon through Friday.  Thanks for your help.

The Self-Publishing Handbook

The Self Publishing Handbook by Brad PauquetteIt’s my pleasure to announce that Columbus Press has released The Self-Publishing Handbook: Five Key Steps to Professionally Publish Your Book.  The book is available from all major retailers in print and e-book formats.

I’ve been working as a publishing consultant since 2008, for lots of different types and sizes of publishers.  Self-publishing is a mixed bag.  It can be done right, but it’s often done very wrong.

I’d like to see more people self-publish right.  The authors who are most successful approach self-publishing as a business, they’re starting a tiny publishing house.  Like any micro-enterprise, success is dependent on research, product quality and contracting the right experts.  This book helps potential self-publishers apply these principles to the world of publishing.

Self-publishing is nothing new.  Classic authors like James Joyce and Beatrix Potter were self-published.  What’s new is that today you can self-publish with virtually no investment.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, self-publishing required the investment of thousands of dollars for professional printer setup, print runs, etc.  Most people do a little research and commit themselves to excellence before they spend that kind of money.  But today, with print-on-demand technology and e-books, self-publishers can now “publish” a book with no investment.  You can literally upload an unpolished Microsoft Word document from your computer, and see your “book” for sale on Amazon a few hours later, at no cost to you and with no quality control.  As a result, lots of people are jumping into self-publishing without taking the time to put together an effective product and an effective business strategy.

I hope that more people will read this book and decide to self-publish right.  Even though they can do it for free, I hope they’ll commit themselves to producing an excellent, professional piece of literature that can stand up in the free market.

You can find The Self-Publishing Handbook on here, or look for it from your favorite retailer.  Columbus Publishing Lab is also offering a free PDF of this book, find that offer here.

If you get a chance to read the book, please leave an honest review on and/or  Thanks!

Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown

Full disclosure: my company, Columbus Press, produced this book.

I love post apocalyptic stories.  Nothing brings out the true nature of a character like being one of the last human beings alive in a hostile world.

The problem with post-apocalyptic fiction is that you normally have to wade through a bunch of near future sci-fi bullshit to get to those amazing characters and stories.  Zombies, plague, nuclear war–apocalypses are just so tacky.

Cormac McCarthy does a classy job in The Road by never addressing or even hinting at what calamity decimated humanity.  But Samuel Snoek-Brown does him one better.

Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-BrownHagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown, published by Columbus Press, is an absolutely phenomenal book.

Snoek-Brown (which is pronounced like Book-Town, if you’re curious), discovered and utilized an actual apocalypse from our nation’s history.  Unlike most post-apocalyptic stories, the technology will never be outdated, and the typical suspension of disbelief, as far as the world is concerned, has been eradicated.  He even works in werewolves, yet we never leave the real world.  It’s truly brilliant.

Hagridden is set in the final days of the Civil War, and primarily follows the lives of two women struggling to survive in the Louisiana bayou.  All of the men have been conscripted to the Confederate army and left the swamp a year or more ago, the economy has collapsed, and what land remains in tact has been ravaged by hurricanes.  These two women are deposited into a hostile landscape, alone and with no preparation, and we see their human nature overcome their proprieties.  We question their decision to murder and steal, but while we can’t justify it, we can’t condemn it either.

This book defies genre.  I’ve spent cumulative hours in conversation with early readers trying to categorize this book without success.  Officially we’ve called it Historical Fiction, but it really fits into so many categories–from literary fiction to action/adventure to romance to war–it’s all there.  There’s something for everyone, and there’s enough of whatever you’re after to carry you through.

Best of all, this book doesn’t take itself too seriously.  While the subject matter is terribly dark, grave even, and the timescape and landscape are authentic and accurate, Snoek-Brown isn’t afraid to use his imagination.  You won’t find a dry history lesson disguised in a fictional story.  Instead you’ll find real characters, gritty and alive, doing sometimes bizarre, yet believable, things, realistically woven into a credible time and place.

I might have published this book, but don’t let that tarnish this review.  In fact, it’s the greatest credit that I can give it.  I’m not a rich man, and believe me, I have enough activities demanding my day, but I liked this book so much that I invested my very limited time and resources into it.

I receive hundreds of submissions to Columbus Press every year. Eager writers, many of whom are very qualified.  Yet this is the book that sifted to the top, this is the book that stood out as something that could be truly exceptional.

You might not love this book as much as I do.  And you will complain about the lack of quotation marks.  But I haven’t found a reader yet that didn’t think this was a solid book and a great read.

You can pick the book up from Amazon here in hardcover, paperback or for your Kindle.  It’s also available from Barnes & Noble here.  Alternately, if you can find a bookstore, just ask for it and they’ll get you a copy.

You can also learn more about the book at

Stories While You Wait at Comfest

Comfest is one of my favorite holidays.  For the first time, Columbus Creative Cooperative will have a vendor booth there.

Every year, Comfest turns away a couple hundred vendors.   So we’re pretty excited to have made the cut.

As an added spectacle, I’ll be in the CCC booth with my typewriter, writing stories live while you wait.  I originally got the idea from this guy.

It’ll be a suggested donation of $10.  I’ll be taking pictures of the stories that I write, and will post them here and around the interwebs as I’m able.

I hope to see you there!  I’ll be writing stories from 2pm to 6pm, then Emily Hitchcock will be taking over for me.

Columbus Arts Festival – Saturday, June 7

I’ll be reading from my novelette, Sejal: The Walk for Water, this Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on the Word is Art stage at the Columbus Arts Festival.

Learn more about the festival here.

Four authors were selected to read tomorrow, for a one hour program.  I’ll be joined by fellow CCC author Heather Sinclair Shaw, whose story “Chrysalis” was also featured in Best of Ohio Short Stories.

The festival is free to attend, including the Word is Art stage.  It’s always been a really cool festival, you’ll want to find a time this weekend to check it out.

Realism in Sejal

I read recently that when John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, it was criticized as being a polarizing exaggeration of the situation facing America.  In fact, Steinbeck was toning down the true stories of the dust bowl that he was basing the story on.  Today we celebrate the story as a remarkably accurate, though anecdotal portrayal of real life for many during the Great Depression.

When I wrote Sejal: The Walk for Water, I presented it to a CCC writers’ workshop and feedback that I consistently received was that I didn’t make Sejal’s life bad enough.  But when I created the character, I wanted her to seem normal, I wanted to demonstrate that the water crisis is horrible for regular people.  I wanted the reader to know that these are things that happen to normal people every day in rural India–the worst thing that could happen would be for the audience to write off Sejal’s situation as some sort of outlandish worst case scenario.

Yesterday, my friend Kirby sent me a link to an article about two teenage girls who were brutally gang raped and murdered in India.  They had left the safety of their homes at night to use the restroom in a field, that’s when they were assaulted.  Their homes had no running water or plumbing.

Just like Sejal, one of the girls was fourteen years old.

The water crisis is real, and the effects extend far beyond thirst.

It’s true that a clean, fresh water well wouldn’t have averted this particular assault and murder in India.  And no amount of indoor plumbing will address the culture of intolerance and hatred which fueled an incident like this in the first place.

But it’s a start.

It’s estimated that 5,000 children die every day around the world due to unsafe drinking water.  Many of those are in India.  And that doesn’t even begin to factor in the many, many stories like this one, or the violent confrontations spurned by competition for water resources, or the lack of productivity due to time spent collecting water, non-fatal sickness and chronic dehydration.

When Kirby sent me that article, it broke my heart.  It crossed my mind that sharing it with me might have been a vindictive act designed to ruin my night.  But I know the truth is that lots of people, including Kirby, share my despair over situations like these, and share my passion for the very real steps that we can take to improve the lives of so many.

If you haven’t read Sejal, I hope that you will.  And know that this story is the rule, not the exception.  The exceptions are so much worse.

You can download Sejal for free here, or you can buy it from or most other major retailers.  If you purchase it, all of the proceeds I receive as the author of the book will be donated to The Water Cycle Project.

Shakespeare in the Park

Update: I received an email on Friday morning cancelling CCC’s involvement with this event.  The Actors’ Theatre Co cited short staffing as the reason.

Join me this Saturday at Schiller Park in Columbus, Ohio.  At 7:00, I’ll be reading a chapter from Capital Offense, a book I wrote with a couple of other guys under the pen name Kurt Stevens.

At 8:00, The Actors’ Theatre will present Shakespeare’s Hamlet.    Shakespeare in the Park is always a great time.  When the weather’s nice, there’s just about nothing better than hanging out in the park with a bottle of wine and enjoying good theater.

The Actors’ Theatre is a primarily amateur organization, but the level at which they produce these shows is nothing short of impressive.

Thank you to The Actors’ Theatre for partnering with Columbus Creative Cooperative to present readers ahead of the show!