Donald Trump would not be fixated on building a wall on the southern border of the United States if this were not the issue that won him the presidency and gave him the most visceral connection to his supporter base of which the most predominant demographic bloc are white evangelicals. So it doesn’t seem far-fetched to ponder how white evangelical theology builds walls.
A wall expresses a commitment to an uncomplicated view of reality. The innocence on one side of the wall needs to be protected from the evil on the other side. There are no extenuating circumstances when there’s a wall. The details of individual people’s stories don’t matter. Those who are on the right side of it are saved; those who are on the wrong side of it are damned.
Kind of like heaven. At least white evangelical heaven. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist Church, made this connection explicit, citing Revelation 21:17 as his basis for supporting Trump’s wall. A litmus test of orthodoxy for white evangelicalism is to ask whether you are clear about who makes it inside the walls of heaven and how they make it in. There’s one way to make it in. Ask Jesus into your heart sincerely enough that you stop desiring sinful things as evidenced by your abstinence from drugs, premarital sex/porn, and foul language. If you aren’t smitten enough at praise and worship each week, you can always ask him into your heart again and hope that you do it sincerely enough for it to take.
The white evangelical understanding of immigration is perfectly analogous to its understanding of getting into heaven. Immigrants just need to go through the “right process” (because there must be a “right process”). If they barge into our country without going through the imagined “right process,” they’re like trespassers trying to storm the pearly gates of heaven without a Jesus salvation stamp.
The theology of the white evangelical salvation industrial complex and the ideology of “Make America Great Again” (by keeping out immigrants) are mutually reinforcing. To say that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be called “illegal” is as heretical as saying that non-Christians should be allowed into heaven. Calling undocumented immigrants “illegal since what they did was illegal” accommodates the same emotional need for “clarity” as saying that “marriage is between a man and a woman” or “salvation is through Jesus alone.”
Now let me clarify some things about my views on immigration and salvation. I do believe in heaven and hell. And I believe that it’s valid for countries to have borders and orderly systems for controlling who crosses those borders and under what circumstances. My objection to white evangelical theology and Trumpist ideology is the presumptuous oversimplification involved in both and the anxious need for clear black and white lines that is the definitive core of these interconnected thought systems.
As a recovering alcoholic, I know that hell is very real and I’ve come to understand heaven as the serenity of union with Christ that I am constantly pursuing. Being justified by Christ rescues me from my defensive self-justification which allows me to liberated from sin by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. That’s how I tell the story as a Wesleyan Christian. But because of the complicated stories and beliefs of the people I’ve met in the recovery world and other places, I am unwilling to say that what I call “union with Christ” cannot possibly be attained through a non-Christian set of spiritual practices and vocabulary. I’ve met too many people who exude Christ without speaking the way that I do about him. My theology doesn’t have a clear wall and it doesn’t collapse as a result.
Our immigration system is broken in two primary ways that I see:
1) We need a temporary worker visa with more flexibility than the H-1 and H-2 visas so that economic migrants from countries south of our border can come to our country and work as independent contractors but maintain their families in their home countries where the cost of living is drastically cheaper (which would turn what is currently unsanctioned, secretive permanent relocation into dignified, open seasonal migration).
2) We need to revamp our refugee process to account for realities that are more complex than the political dissidents fleeing totalitarian regimes it was designed for. A Honduran family fleeing gang violence has a credible fear for their lives but they’re in completely different circumstances than a gay activist fleeing Iran. We need more refugee statuses than just one category of political asylum, and we need a much more streamlined process for making decisions about whether or not they can relocate to our country.
A much better investment of $5 billion than building a wall would be to revamp our immigration system and hire tens of thousands of case managers, social workers, and judges who could oversee a more rational temporary worker visa system and refugee process. Building a wall through terrain that is mountainous and filled with private land and complex ecosystems makes zero sense from a practical standpoint. Its function is idolatry. It is a graven image built to the fake demonic god of certainty who loves walls more than he loves humanity.
Check out my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us!