Sorry, friends, that I am been absent for a while here, but I have been busy trying to wrap up the next-to-last volume of my book series, and other personal matters. However, there has been buzz recently concerning a unique scrap between two major public figures concerning a religious matter, for which I just had to add my two-cents as food for thought.
As most of you know, a few days ago the Pope was asked to comment about popular Presidential candidate Donald Trump and his comments about the Mexicans that the Pope was visiting at the time at the border. The interchange has been famously misquoted on television and on line almost everywhere, but you can read the actual comments, in context, here. The key points of question to the Pope and his response are taken from this cited reference and the Catholic News Agency transcript, and include the following:
“Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?
Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
Trump subsequently took the media bait in twisting the Pope’s words, and said that someone challenging whether another person was a Christian was “disgraceful”; nevermind that less than 24 hours before Trump himself was publicly challenging Ted Cruz’ true Christianity because of his alleged deceit. Trump also would love to give the Catholic leader a “black eye” on the eve of the South Carolina primary, which is overwhelmingly evangelical and distrustful of the Pope anyway. His gambit paid off; numerous polls showed that his comments about the Pope raised his standing with voters, and in his vote returns, as the most popular candidate today amongst evangelicals, according to polls, and with major endorsements such as Liberty University head Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham. Trump added that any reservations the Pope had a about the wall in Mexico were due to his ignorance, and that one day when ISIS attacks the Vatican he will wish there had been a President Trump.
It is important to look carefully at the words the Pope chose to use in his forced off-the-cuff response to a reporter, for he is a real thinking person. He did not say that someone who wanted a wall for a specific instance and justification was in question (for example, for a prison); rather, he responded to the reporter’s description of a man who spoke poorly of him and others that seek diplomacy, and sought to deport large numbers and split up families, in the reporters view. In response, the Pope carefully said that one who only thinks about building walls and not building bridges, is not a Christian, adding that “This is not the Gospel”. In other words, it is a matter of the nature of the person and their first “gut level”, reactionary responses to any conflict and disagreements, that defines their connection to Christ, or “abiding in the Vine”. The choice between “building bridges” or “building walls” is at the heart of the Gospel; it’s the same as the choice between Jesus od Nazareth or Jesus Barabbas.
I believe the Pope is on sound Biblical foundation in his assertion here. There are only a handful of uses of the word “wall” itself in the New Testament. Their is a reference to a wall in Damascus in which Saul of Tarsus was let over in a basket to prevent his capture, and the “whited wall” that Paul used to describe the chief priest, similar to a comparison Christ made, but with neither in a favorable intention. There is also the wall in the New Jerusalem. However, it has numerous wide gates that never close, that the free people are free to pass through, as they take refreshment from the Tree of Life, the River from the Throne and God’s presence, all taken freely and without restriction – the “end game” God wants for His people. The only other reference in the entire New Testament is a doctrinal one, from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2, when he told the Gentile Ephesians that
“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” (Ephesians 2:12-16)
At the time (at least for a decade or two more), the Temple stood, as it had for centuries, with a separate outer courtyard for Gentiles, and an inner court for the Jews; if a Gentile strolled in the inner area, signage was posted that said he was to be killed. When Jesus died on the Cross, He first tore down the first “wall” between God and man when the Holy of Holies curtain was torn; a generation later, the entire Temple complex, with its “wall of separation” between Jew and Gentile, would be visibly broken down. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit broke down other barriers between Jew and Gentile, with the visions for Peter and the salvation of Cornelius and other Gentiles. When the Pope mentions people who think only of building walls or building bridges, he is referencing this Biblical teaching: “And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18).
I have witnessed a number of pro-Trump pastors come to his defense (Trump’s, not the Pope’s, the latter having been lambasted by many Christians for his comments), saying that building walls was Biblical, and cited Nehemiah as their sole example. I find it curious to note that Nehemiah himself (aside from his own singlular book) was mentioned only in one verse in the book of Ezra (a similar book), and no where else in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the New. Neither Christ nor the Apostles found any cause or reason to ever cite Nehemiah, and his fellow armed wall builders, as a spiritual model for their teaching of the New Covenant and Kingdom of Heaven – I wonder why?
I’ll conclude by noting the irony that the other Republican candidate popular with evangelicals – Ted Cruz – is using David Barton as head of Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” Super-PAC. Barton is a former Texas Republican Party vice chairman, and a political consultant to the Republican National Convention on wooing evangelicals. However this man, armed with his sole Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education from Oral Roberts University, is a household name (at least in Christian households) for being “an expert in historical and constitutional issues”, at least according to his own claims in his own organization biography. You may already know that many fellow Christian historians of legitimate historian academic credentials have debunked many of his assertions concerning the spiritual faith fo the Founding Fathers and their documents, including those he excises and omits, and his exoriation of the separation of church and state, and original intentions. What is the name of his organization? Wallbuilders. On the same web page he says the organization name comes from “the Old Testament writings of Nehemiah, who led a grassroots movement to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore its strength and honor.” By the way, what happened to Nehemiah’s walls they so painstakingly built? Well, due to their own internal corruption within the walls, first the Greeks and then Romans took them over at God’s pleasure for their disobedience, and the walls did them no good. Later, when they insisted on internal civil war and rebellion from Rome (following Zealots like the Jesus Barabbas they chose, and as American evangelicals choose today), even these walls were thrown down, along with those of the Temple itself. Only the Western Wall fragment remains as a testament to their futility. If a people aren’t pure at heart, walls will do them no good. One day the Jews may build these walls again, along with the Temple (likely with evangelical help), just like their dubious wall to keep out Palestinians, to help facilitate the coronation of their “messiah” the Anti-Christ as God in their Temple. Walls do more to keep evil in, than keep evil out.
Cultural “wall-building” is big business today in conservative and Christian circles, and has been for a long time. It requires a Chicken Little propaganda arm to keep saying “the sky is falling”, and “barbarians are at the gate”, be they Muslims, Mexicans, Communists or secularists. Gold and survival food is always ready for sale at Christian ministries concurrent with these messages; they follow the adage of the old Fuller Brush door-to-door salesmen: “First create a need, and then fill it”. It requires the demonization of those who are the least bit different culturally from us, and use of the old Klan warning that “they’re coming to rape our white women”. Intelligence agencies, defense contractors and other big businesses (even individual billionaries from casinos, gas fracking and the like) can provide all the money they need for paid airtime, first-class accommodations and facilities, and a prominent position at the National Religious Broadcasters conventions. It violates many premises of New Testament teachings, including to love your neighbor, love your enemy, and the Golden Rule. It also is a fundamental expression of unbelief in God and His goodness and power, to properly protect His own, and the mission of the Church in their world until it is completed. And it is embraced by “Bible believing Christians” that are weekly church attenders now more than ever. In contrast, “bridge builders”, be they with Muslims, the poor, minority groups and the like, are always starved for funds, and people to help. They seek to better understand people who see things from a different perspective or experience, and even those who may claim to have gotten a raw deal by us or our ancestors, and are bitter about it. “Bridge builders” humbly listen to others, and don’t try to butt in and defend their own culture or faith, and rather listen and be respectful to them. They make the first move to make contact and to bless the “stranger”, who may rightfully be skeptical of them, and are patient to let trust build, even to the point of extending more grace to them than to their fellow Christians. They take the effort to do this face-to-face, but also listen to others worldwide and in the media, and endorse their concerns (when justified) to their elected officials and their Christian leaders and friends. While they toil away, slowly building trust with other groups, they are called “naive”, “misguided” and even unpatriotic “traitors” (the most serious of spiritual offenses) by their own Christian kindred. These Christian scoffers are the “Sanballats” and “Tobiahs” that sew discouragement and grief in those building Christian bridges of reconciliation.
Of course, practical yet merciful measures to secure borders, to vet entrants as to their being criminals or terrorists, is a legitimate concern of Caesar (i.e., government). However, this is not the issue here. The real question is what do you want to be the focus of your thoughts and deeds, and instinctive “nature” over your very brief life – as a “wall builder” or a “bridge builder”? What do you want to be?
I look forward to your enlightening comments!