Trump’s Wall and the Cross

[SPOILER ALERT: THIS POST TAKES AN UNABASHED, “NO-HOLDS-BARRED” POSITION REPUDIATING THE BUILDING OF PRESIDENT TRUMP’S BORDER WALL WITH MEXICO. IF YOU CANNOT HAVE YOUR SUPPORT OF TRUMP OR HIS WALL CHALLENGED, PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.]

First, this is a theological blog, not a political one. However, there are times in which issues which have their origin in politics impinges so directly and so profoundly upon theology and ethics that to ignore them means a retreat from Christian convictions. This is one of those times.

Second, I admit there is an immigration problem to be addressed by the lawmakers of both the United States and Mexico (and possible other nations). This is a serious, and I dare say, entrenched, problem that calls for thoughtful, deliberate, and above all, a unified approach if it is to be solved.

Third, I support policies that provide for safe, legal immigration to the United States, and also defend the sovereignty of this nation. Those who are drawn to our country are drawn to us for a myriad of reasons – and they should be given every opportunity to do so LEGALLY. The line between legal immigration and illegal immigration is not really all that fine. It should be defended and protected.

With all of that being said, a few days back I made a comment on my Facebook page and also on Twitter that apparently upset some folks. Without repeating everything, I just pointed out how not all that long ago President Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin wall and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” I opined that the same people who thought that was a wonderful idea are now supporting the building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico – kind of a strange, and in my eyes, a wicked form of hypocrisy.

I was challenged, and I must say in a very polite and generous manner, by a young man who had the dubious honor of being one of my students. I regard him as being thoughtful and sincere almost to a fault. But, in his defense of Trump and the wall, I must say he (and those who think like him) are just wrong.

To my young friend there is no difference between the wall and other forms of “security” such as the walls Israel has constructed – or any nation for that matter (I pointed out that Communist nations have had walls for decades if not centuries, but that did not impress). For him, as for many Trumpsters, the wall represents security and national sovereignty.

To that I say, “Exactly how?”

Let’s just cut to the chase – building the wall will make the U.S. no safer, and will not solve the immigration problem, to any greater extent than the confiscation of every firearm will solve the problem of violence in America. If you think that a little bit of steel and concrete will stop human trafficking and the influx of drugs and illegal immigrants into the U.S., then I would politely, yet pointedly, suggest you are under the influence of a special kind of logic inhibiting drug. Let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

Proponents of banning all guns (or at the very least, all handguns) in America argue that without guns, America will be safer. Those who defend gun ownership respond (and I agree) that is a specious argument. There will never be a way to confiscate all handguns, what will happen is that criminals will always have access to handguns, and only the law-abiding citizen will be damaged by such a ridiculous proposal.

Proponents of building a wall to stop illegal immigration argue that the wall will prevent all (or at least the majority) of illegal immigration. Again, a specious argument – do you really think someone who is determined to enter the U.S. illegally will be deterred by that silly wall? It might keep out the migrant workers (upon whom so much of our agricultural output depends), but for the hardened trafficker or drug runner that wall will simply be a speed bump.

And, let us be perfectly clear about another issue – the wall will do nothing towards solving the greater problem of WHY people are fleeing oppressive governments and are “yearning to be free” in the land of opportunity. Illegal border crossings are not the disease – they are the symptom that indicates the disease. Building a wall will NOT address the underlying issues that will simply re-appear in different forms somewhere else.

Trump’s wall is nothing more than an ideological symbol of American (read white) supremacy masked as a “law and order” effort to stop “those” people from coming into the U.S.

Christians should repudiate that ideology – and the symbolism – as clearly as we can.

I return to President Reagan’s famous declaration. It was, in one incredibly short and powerful sentence, a statement of the core of America’s greatest gift to the world – that all people should be free, and that walls that create hatred and animosity must be torn down. Torn down, not by military aggression, but by the simple power of human dignity and respect. Trump’s wall creates hostility and distrust – read aggression – between many people who are more closely related economically and culturally than they are to other people in their own countries of legal residence. Trump’s wall is nothing more than a facade – a symbol (and a false one at that) – of security and “legal” obedience.

That’s my political take on the subject. Now – let us consider what Scripture has to teach us.

Consider such passages as Amos 5:14-15, 21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 5:6; Isaiah 1:16-17, 8:12-13, 55:8-9, 58:6-7; Jeremiah 9:23-24, 22:3, 34:17; Leviticus 19. Consider how God repeatedly told the Israelites to be kind to the alien – as they had been aliens and slaves in Egypt. This is a common, and well noted, theme throughout the Old Testament.

But also consider Matthew 5-7! Read Matthew 23. Read Matthew 25:31-46. Consider James 2:1-13!

Consider Ephesians 2:11-22 where the apostle Paul goes to extreme measures to point out that Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” so that he might “reconcile us both [i.e., both Jew and Gentile] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” You see, in the Kingdom of God there can be no walls. Walls separate, Christ unites. Walls create division and hostility. Christ brings peace.

Just a note, but if you try to argue that the above passages pertain to Israel or to the church, and that he has another set of ethics for the world, then I politely but emphatically argue that I am not an Augustinian nor a Lutheran, and I do not ascribe to the “two Kingdoms” ideology. God may hold those who are aware of and who accept his laws to a higher degree of obedience, but he never, ever, said that he had two sets of ethics or moral absolutes – one for the “secular” world and one for his kingdom. (Read Romans 1-3)

If it was right to celebrate the destruction of the Berlin wall, then it is now wrong to celebrate the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. If it is now right and proper to build Trump’s wall, then it was wrong to applaud and support President Reagan. You cannot have it both ways.

You can attempt to defend Trump’s wall on purely pragmatic grounds – that it will stop illegal immigration. I am fully convinced that is a foolish, even ridiculous argument, but you may have it if you wish. I must add here that the cost of this foolish endeavor is five billion dollars! The building of the wall is immoral simply due to its cost. Just think how that money could be spent on policies that would have an impact on illegal immigration. It just boggles the mind.

You can also attempt to defend the wall on purely political grounds – that it was Trump’s promise before he was elected, therefore he should try to get it built. That, in sum, is why I think most people who support the wall want it built. That wall will be a collective “thumb-in-the-nose” to all those mean, nasty, ugly liberals. However – let’s be real here. Trump will not be president for long, and what kind of reaction will transpire when the next Democratic nominee is elected? Revenge is a dish politicians love to serve hot or cold, and I shudder to think what is in store two, or at the most, six years from now.

However, let us be clear. You cannot defend the building of the wall using any semblance of Christian doctrine or ethics.

For Christians, standing on this side of the cross, building Trump’s wall is just flat out wrong – and the whole of Scripture supports me on that statement.

Let us ascend by climbing lower.

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

5 thoughts on “Trump’s Wall and the Cross”

  1. Paul, this was a thoughtful article. I will admit that I favor the wall mainly because all our “wonderful” politicians have made illegal immigration a political issue and have no desire to fix it. I have talked with friends in the building industry who would support a wall yet understand that we need to do something about the many illegals here who do the hard work, and do not believe that rounding them up and throwing them out is the answer. We also understand that drug dealers and gang members will do anything and everything to get into the country, and politicians who do not want to make a distinction between such and otherwise good, hard working illegals.

    We send the violent ones back but their home nations are as terrified of them as we are. Groups use children (and some bad law is involved here as well) as pawns. Then there is the sex traffic that is involved and once again no one does not want to deal with that. Interestingly, when my dad came here he came through Ellis Island. There were doctors there to allow or not allow people in protecting the country from diseases. That is hard to do when people cross anywhere. But you know all this.

    I agree that scripture certainly encourages us to be concern for the alien and that we should be respectful of all people. and Eph. 2:11-22 is one of my favorites. Yet we still have “walls.” Maybe I shouldn’t but I have a fence around my yard. Businesses have chain link fences. The prison I teach in has razor wire and chain link fences along with guard towers. Will any fences or walls stop everyone? No. Will it stop someone from breaking into my house? No. But people want some form of protection that will at least slow people down. We see that in scripture as well. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and some of the Psalms also speak in that way. Others in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Kings talk about the walls being torn down by invading armies. Hezekiah was behind a wall and God delivered him and David often went to defensive positions.

    Reagan and the fall of the Berlin wall may not be the good example. The communist had no problem shooting down people trying to get over the wall. Right now (and this could change) I don’t see us shooting down people coming over a wall on the southern border. The tear gas was used to prevent people from overwhelming the guards. Since we are having this discussion we are not like the communist who wanted to keep people in. But I’ll think about it.

    My one issue I have with your comments is the idea that if one supports the wall that make him a racist. That term is attached to everything. Are there racists in this country? Yes. But are all Republicans or conservatives or white Christians racists? Seems Jesus had something to say about this (John 7:24; Matt. 7:1-2). Apparently if one doesn’t agree with such things as the wall, abortion, taxing the rich, etc., etc., etc., that makes one a racist. If you are trying to convince me that the wall is wrong, calling me a racist turns me off almost immediately. Another person writing on a Christian blog called those who support Trump Nazis. I stopped reading. Just last week a little girl was shot and killed in her mother’s car as the mother was leaving Walmart. The mother was wounded. During the week a picture came out that the one who did it was white. Some black activists immediately talked about the white racist problem in the area. Saturday two black men were arrested and have admitted to the crime. And a local Washington politician when asked about it refused to say that it was wrong to make such a statement. I know you based on your writings and know that you do not say that all who support the wall is racist but using such language can be a barrier. You and I both know how leaders in the church will use such terms as liberal or false teacher to shut down discussion because now one has to defend something he is not.

    So again, very thoughtful article which I appreciate.

    George Mearns

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    1. Good new year, George! Thank you for the kind comments and gently pushback. Your comments goaded me, and so I went back and carefully re-read my post, and no matter how carefully I write and edit, sometimes possible misinterpretations slip past me that I never intended to communicate. To be sure, I do not intend to suggest that everyone who supports the wall is a racist. I know there are a number of folks who see the wall as a necessary step to protecting the border. I obviously disagree – but that is for the history books to determine, I reckon.

      However, and in a toe-digging-in-the-sand kind of self-defense, I think Trump has made it more than obvious that one of his goals is to promote American supremacy (“Make America Great Again”). The not-too-subtle message communicated by the construction of such a wall is, “We are better than you, you are lower than us, and if you want to be a part of us you have to match our superior ethics and standards” I say this because there is no discussion of building a wall between the U.S. and Canada, so clearly there is some form of discrimination going on in regard to the border with Mexico.

      Now to the tricky part – for a significant number of Trump supporters (and I may dare to say the majority??), that discrimination is based on race; ergo, these folks want the wall built for racist reasons. I say that once again because the overwhelming number of Trump supporters are white – and have reason to believe that the “brown horde” coming up out of Mexico have somehow ruined their job prospects or have corrupted our judicial system or have some other complaint. Now, again, to be sure, if questioned and challenged, many of these individuals would disavow any overt racism or discrimination – but their not-so-subtle comments would suggest otherwise. Sadly, I hear many of these comments in the foyers of our church buildings!

      So, anyway, that is why I used the phrase “American (read white) supremacy.” In no way did I intend to cast so wide a net as to label every supporter of Trump or every supporter of the building of the wall as racist. I was attempting to make point out what I thought was pretty obvious to everyone – Trump himself promotes American supremacy almost to a fault, and the greatest number of his supporters are white. I just tried to connect the dots.

      I genuinely do appreciate your comments – and never fear to push back when you think I have said something wrong or inappropriate! I do sometimes say things too abruptly – and I need to be challenged when I do so. The manner in which you responded to me is a tribute to your vision, and grace.

      Thanks again – and as always, thanks for reading and for taking the time for a little conversation.

      Paul

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  2. Some people are surprised, given my sympathy toward immigrants, that I support a secure southern border. The border needs to be secured at the same time that we fix the broken system that doesn’t allow laborers to come here legally. The two need to happen at the same time. (And people need to be educated to the fact that a large percentage of illegal aliens don’t cross the border illegally… but that’s another topic!)

    That said, I oppose the wall. As you have noted, the wall has a symbolic factor that goes far beyond its practical purpose. It smacks of xenophobia and racism, though not everyone involved intends to communicate such. (Some do, knowing that it will play to a certain demographic; again, this is pure politics, not an attempt to do anything serious about immigration) To be frank, it connects the U.S. with historical oppressors and dictators; walls are not seen as a gesture of liberty.

    Close the border, but not via a wall.

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  3. Nationalism which seeks to take advantage via economic, political, or military strength those in other countries who are weaker is nothing other than bullying. The call to love neighbors knows no national borders. Countries rightfully protect their borders to limit chaos and confusion, but that has been accomplished successfully by America for many years. Neither our economy or cultural status quo is out of equilibrium because of the presence of illegal immigrants. The Border Patrol apprehends or refuses entrance of 30,000 or so people every month who seek to enter America unlawfully. The number of border apprehension and refusals is not currently historically high. Claiming that we do not have border security or that there is some type of current crisis in that regard is laughable. The claims made to support the emergency building of just 200 miles of wall with 5 billion dollars is nothing more than fear mongering undertaken to gain political advantage. A suffering from a crime committed by an illegal immigrant is no greater than the suffering from a crime committed by a US citizen. The evil represented by an illegal immigrant criminal is not greater than the evil represented by a US citizen criminal. The price of a full wall across the southern border has been estimated at 50 billion dollars. That only makes sense if a wall stops more crime than 50 billion dollars spent in law enforcement some other way. No one is making the argument that 50 billion dollars for a wall is the most efficient use of tax dollars for fighting crime. The wall is nothing more than a political ruse. We wisely protect our homes, but we do it with $30 of deadbolts. We are good stewards of our personal funds comparing risk with cost of protection. We don’t build 30′ walls around our homes – it doesn’t make economic sense. The same should be done with US government funds. From a Christian’s standpoint love is about neighbors – a wall is only about self.

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