Second in a series of three blogs.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
The idea of “building a wall” has been extremely popular in this administration, and President Trump’s first executive order followed through on that promise by directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use existing funds to “build a large, physical barrier” along the U.S.-Mexico border (a barrier which already partially exists). Moreover, possibility of building a wall along our border was highlighted Sunday night during the Super Bowl with a very controversial television commercial. While there are people literally on both sides of the fence about the issue of building walls to secure our borders, what does the Bible say about it?
The scriptural message related to this issue was the topic of the sermon preached at a private religious service held before Trump’s inauguration. The Rev. Robert Jeffress, an Evangelical Southern Baptist pastor, preached on Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem for protection from enemies, but Nehemiah and those who assisted him did so working with one hand while bearing a sword in the other. And that’s not the only story of wall building in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles: 24, 27, 32; Ezra 9:9, Isaiah 60:18, and more). There are many stories of people building walls for defense and separation. Therefore, the Biblical exegesis demonstrates that one of the most ancient practices of foreign policy is wall building. When conflicts arise, we build walls. The taller and thicker the better. Throughout history we have seen countries erect walls to keep foreigners, their enemies, or “the other” out: East and West Berlin, Jerusalem and Palestine, China and Mongolia, Texas and Mexico. And then we must guard our gates with guns and round-the-clock surveillance.
This approach could have been seen as necessary in Old Testament times, but Jesus brought a different message. Jesus talked often about the coming Kingdom of God — would even this holy city have walls and gates? In Revelation 21 John is shown a vision of this holy city, a place with Christ as the king and ruler. And, interestingly enough, border control policy is mentioned: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there.” (Revelation 21:23-25)
From Revelation 21 we learn that in the Kingdom of God there may still be nations, rulers, and borders. But to exercise heavenly border control, the gates will be left open (vs. 25), with people being welcomed to pass through them. Those who are righteous can come and go as they please. While critics might say that undocumented immigrants are not “righteous” people because they have broken US law to come to our country, I do not believe that our morality can be judged by an unjust, broken system. Some of the most virtuous, respectable, and hardworking people I have met are immigrants who came here so that their families could have a better life. They may not have documentation, but they believe in family, hard work, compassion, and God above all else.
I am not trying to say that we do not need policies and laws, but we need border enforcement policies that are sensible and protect human rights. The government has a duty to protect its people from criminals; however, that does not excuse officials from their responsibility to respect the dignity and lives of anyone who is a human being made in the image of God, including those who are forced to cross borders for their safety and the well-being of their family. I have been to the border and met people on both sides of the wall and can tell you that this executive order will not fix a broken legal system, and it will not change the violence and drug wars that are happening in Latin America. Instead of putting our efforts into building a wall to keep people out, we should be focused on border communities’ revitalization and demilitarization, and concentrate on mitigating the U.S. role in the root causes of forced migration.
Hebrews 13:2 states: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The Bible is clear about our responsibility to show hospitality and care to strangers. Building walls demonstrates hostility rather than hospitality and is antithetical to the message of the Gospel. I pray for a day when border control is no longer necessary and the Kingdom of God reigns on Earth. However, until that day comes, I will continue to tell my representatives that border policies should protect and respect human life, civil rights, justice, cultural traditions, and public lands.