Commentary
By Jim Wallis 1-29-2019

Thanks be to God! For all the government workers and their families who will, hopefully, soon get their deeply deserved paychecks, we give thanks. For those of us who are constantly on the look out for what’s next on the breaking news horizon, this is a good place to start today: giving thanks to God. Let us first be thankful, then ask what is next.

We saw so many of the heartbreaking stories of moms and dads agonizing about how to put food on the table, meet the medical and educational needs of their children, or avoid losing their homes or apartments. The sigh of relief breathed by many families when President Trump succumbed to nationwide pressure to end the unconscionable and increasingly dangerous government shutdown was palpable when he made his incoherent speech of concession on Friday. Ending the risk of even more pain for the poorest Americans about to lose critical survival programs along with those already suffering — we can call that a spiritual victory over politics as usual.

Many of us called for prayer to reopen the government and legions of people lifted their prayers for lawmakers. Leaders from my own District Church in Washington, D.C., as well as others in the region, reported how fervent their churches’ prayers to end the shutdown had been.

Prayer is mysterious and moves in miraculous ways that we can never fully know or understand. But I believe that it was partly the work of prayer that helped some lawmakers stand firm and others step up against party loyalty. It was partly the work of prayer that so many local food banks stepped up to serve those people and families, some of whom were seeking help for the first time. So was the effort of so many churches that helped fill the gap for those affected in their congregations and beyond. So was the organizing and outspokenness of air traffic controllers, TSA agents, food inspectors, and even FBI investigators. Prayer changes national narratives and directions. I believe that.

The presidential concession was to reopen the government, quickly repay government workers, and give time for Congress to negotiate differences regarding border security. Both parties believe in border security, despite what Trump says. But Donald Trump has made his campaign, his presidency, his central message, and his vision for America about one thing: his wall.

Trump’s proposed wall for sealing off the southern border, of course, would do nothing to increase border security. Trump’s wall would not protect the United States from terrorism; according to Trump’s own State Department, terrorists don’t come into America by crossing the southern border. Trump’s wall doesn’t protect the U.S. from drugs; drugs come into the country though roads, ports of entry, and even tunnels — and a wall will not stop them. Trump’s wall fantasy will not stop criminality from coming into America, as he claims; immigrants commit less crime than citizens. Further, the flow of immigrants from the southern border has been steadily decreasing — for years. What Trump’s wall is entirely about is his racially divisive message that appeals to his angry and fearful white base. The wall says we must be afraid of non-white people coming to America and this will keep them out of “our” country. The wall is just a symbol, a monument, a testimony to the worst of American white racism, fear, and hatred. Trump’s wall is not just “medieval” as some have called it; it is “evil” as biblical faith would call it.

The Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has been clear about the wall. Our prayers for her and the Democratic Party should now be that they remain firmly against this wall that represents a white nationalist ideology contrary to the very heart of Christian faith. We pray that the coming negotiations result in a reasonable compromise instead of another morally unacceptable government shutdown or a “national emergency,” as the president has threatened, which would surely be taken to court.

Such executive overreach and abuse of presidential power, which even many Republicans reject, could lead to a constitutional crisis that will determine the future of the Trump presidency. We prepare with prayer.

It is time for spiritual preparation for the crisis that is already here — especially for immigrants and people of color. It is a time for prayer and fasting and spiritual vigilance. We must undergird ourselves and our congregations for active and courageous responses — not from the left or the right, but from those who first and foremost are followers of Jesus. Stay tuned.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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