Jesus doesn’t do walls (Ephesians 2:14)

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If you want to get to the core ethos of true Christianity, Ephesians 2:14 is a good place to start: “For [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made [all humanity] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Jesus’ purpose is to make humanity one, to tear down every wall that keeps us from loving God and each other completely. Jesus doesn’t do walls. His disrespect for social walls is what got him crucified. And yet so many Christians today have eschewed the kingdom of God to turn their religion into a gated community for validating their privilege.

It’s true that Ephesians 2:14 isn’t talking about physical walls that are built for national security. The author says very plainly that the “wall” is a metaphor for the “hostility between us.” So what about building a wall on the Mexican border? What about banning immigrants from seven Middle Eastern countries? Isn’t it conflating church and state to try to apply Ephesians 2:14 to immigration policy? Can’t American Christians become “one” with humanity without inviting all of them to live in our country?

I don’t think being a Christian means you’re not allowed to accept the concept of a nation-state that has borders and limits on people coming through those borders. But it ought to eliminate certain attitudes within our national discourse that keep us from having a rational conversation about immigration. So here are some biblical principles that ought to shape Christian approaches to our national discourse.

1. Christians have no basis for moralistic judgment against people who are economic or political refugees even if they have entered our country without authorization. Yes, they technically broke the law, but to put them in the same category as rapists, murderers, and thieves is completely unjust. This is not to say that the United States is obligated to accept anybody who crosses the border. But there’s a visceral need among a very loud minority of US voters for undocumented immigrants to be punished. It is this toxic moralism that has completely sabotaged any ability to have a rational, pragmatic conversation about comprehensive immigration reform. As a Christian who is justified by the blood of Jesus Christ, mercy is not optional for me; it is obligatory (Matthew 18:21-35). If Jesus really paid it all, the need to punish cannot be part of any Christian’s political thought process.

2. Christians don’t get to say that non-US citizens are not their neighbor any more than Jesus let his fellow Jews say Samaritans were not their neighbor. If there are socioeconomic forces in our hemisphere that are driving millions of Mexicans and Central Americans to flee  their homelands and migrate north, then it is the collective responsibility of every government in the Americas to figure out how to reshape our economic order so that people can remain and thrive in the lands where they were born. Because the United States has the most power, we have been able to impose trade agreements and military interventions that have destroyed societies to the South of us. We are not responsible for every problem in Mexico and Central America, but our despicable support for terrorist death squads in the 1980’s has left a long shadow. NAFTA destroyed small-scale agriculture in Mexico which is why millions of Mexican farmers became undocumented farmworkers in the United States. The one thing we are not allowed to say as Christians is “That’s not my problem.” If we build a wall in order to make everything that happens south of us not our problem, Jesus will be on the other side of that wall.

3. Christians do not let fear of the other define our politics. There are Islamic terrorists in the world just like there are Christian terrorists. It is absolutely appropriate to screen refugees who apply for asylum in the United States. What is not okay is when Christians invest their time and energy in Islamaphobic propaganda. While the media has been focused on Trump’s executive orders, several mosques have been burned to the ground in the past week. Any Christian who has been circulating “proof” that all Muslim are terrorists is an accomplice in the terrorism against them. Christians are supposed to be known for our hospitality and unconditional love toward people of different faiths and nationalities. Indeed, this is the reputation that many non-white Christians throughout the world enjoy.

4. White Christians must boldly confront and repent of our legacy of white supremacy. The Christianity we inherited has been distorted by centuries of justifying European imperialism. Indeed, evangelism and imperial conquest were the same thing for many years. Whatever progress white Christianity has made in the last century is no credit to us. It is the result of the prophetic witness of the black church who has worshiped God boldly and fought tooth and nail for their human dignity with the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying we should wallow in shame or wag our fingers at other white people who aren’t as “woke.” I’m saying that we need to be fearlessly open and humble enough to dig out the toxic white supremacist roots from our assumptions about the world. Why do so many white Christians not see a role for the government in seeking the common good? Why do we love law and order so much? Could it be that our ideology has been shaped by decades of stereotypes about lazy black welfare mamas living on the dole and monstrous black youth who need to be reined in by the police? It’s time to untangle our white supremacy from the gospel we desperately need to be saved by.

If you’d like to detoxify your Christianity this Lent, please check out my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us.

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