Commentary

As the longest government shutdown in our nation’s history continues with no end in sight, we believe it’s time to think about “the wall” in a different context.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites encounter a border wall around the city of Jericho. The people of Jericho had become fearful of nations outside of the wall. So, they erected a wall for reinforcement. God instructed the Israelites to bring the wall down. A wall is not a sign of strength and can never secure a nation. Only relationships can do that.

The true threat to our national security is not the immigrant seeking asylum. The true threat is fear. And unfortunately, the current White House leads with fear. The government shutdown is one result, jeopardizing the livelihood of 800,000 federal employees as Trump demands over $5 billion dollars from U.S. taxpayers to fund construction of a wall.

Yet, we know our border is effectively secured — with walls, fences, drones, and border patrol officers. Our southern border is seeing far fewer people attempting to cross than in recent years past. Even though the Republican majority Senate unanimously passed a budget proposal for strong, sensible, and effective border security, President Trump shut down the government.

Clearly this wall is not about security and safety.

Trump’s wall has become a false god and a symbol of all that is not great with America. Our desire for power over people instead of power with people. Our unwillingness to be governed by our own laws. Our disdain for the faith-based principles calling us to care for one another, found in all sacred texts.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.

-Psalm 115:4-8

Leaders want to spend billions, not to help people living in desperation, but on the wall. We must ask ourselves, and our elected leaders, what are the true costs when we allow ourselves to be consumed by fear? Are we willing to put the wall ahead of the God of mercy who came to us as a child fleeing violence? Thousands of God’s children remain in the squalor of tent cities in Tijuana and detention centers, unwelcome in Mexico and the United States. Some are returning to violence at home having lost any hope for asylum they are legally entitled to request.

Worshiping false gods can cause leaders to take extreme and harmful actions and incite false fears in the hearts of their citizenry. That is certainly what happened to King Herod who believed in his own unassailable power. Let’s not forgot that upon hearing of Christ the King’s birth, King Herod ordered the murder of all children two years old and younger, forcing Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt to save their child’s life. Consider what may have been, had a wall had stopped Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at the border of Egypt, or imagine if they’d been held in Egyptian custody and their child had died of dehydration or lack of adequate medical care as has happened to children held in U.S. Border Patrol custody — in our custody.

As our nation’s leaders discern how to use our tax dollars, we implore that they act courageously in the face of fear tactics designed to divide rather than unite us; that they focus on healing our nation and not harming our neighbors by following international immigration laws concerning asylum seekers, and act in the best interests of the democracy they were elected to uphold.

Worshiping false gods closes our eyes to seeing the face of Christ all around us. Jesus was born to show us the face of God in the vulnerability of a child, but to see that we have to leave false gods behind. Our leaders must not sacrifice godliness for a godless wall. If there is to be any return to greatness in America, this must be it.

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon serves as Associate General Officer of Justice and Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ, and an Auburn Senior Fellow.

Rev. Caleb J. Lines is senior minister at University Christian Church in San Diego, California.

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