The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, recently preached a sermon in favor of building a wall between Mexico and the United States. Setting aside the politics of walls, let’s consider the biblical and theological implications. I believe that the proper order is for Christians to search the Bible and then make decisions about how they will live and what they will support. The Bible loses its punch if you make up your mind and then go to the Bible looking for proof that you were right in your opinion.
Dr. Jeffress took his text from the Hebrew Scriptures – the book of Nehemiah. Jeffress trumpeted that the “first step of rebuilding the nation was the building of a great wall. God instructed Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack. You see, God is NOT against building walls!”
As one Baptist preacher to another, I want to say to Rev. Jeffress that his idealization of the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem ignores the way the returning exiles systematically rejected and excluded their fellow Jews left behind during the exile. They had intermarried with foreigners and would become known as the Samaritans. There then followed generations of hatred between Jews and Samaritans. The wall in this case was invisible, but no less real.
Rev. Jeffress, inexplicably completely ignores the message of the Christian Scripture, the New Testament. He has nothing to say about Jesus visiting with the Samaritan woman and breaking down the wall between Jews and Samaritans, men and women. He seems oblivious to the passage from Ephesians: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
Rev. Jeffress seems to want nothing to do with the reality that Jesus symbolically broke down the wall in the Temple that separated Jews from Gentiles. Then Jesus broke down the wall between men and women. Finally, Jesus destroyed the wall between laity and clergy. Jesus was not a wall builder. Jesus never left a wall standing between persons. He destroyed walls of all kinds. He calls his people to use crowbars to rip the nails from wooden walls and hammers to destroy stone walls wherever they exist.
Robert Frost, not a Baptist preacher, was more truthful when he said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…,” and “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I am walling in or walling out and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke in West Berlin and famously said, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Toward the conclusion of the speech President Reagan said, “As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.” That is more prophetic, more truthful than the groveling words of the pastor from Dallas, who “seems hand-tamed by the wealthy and the powerful of this world. If Christians want to be in the construction business, we would be better served to build bridges rather than walls. Or even more, we could “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” O Lord, lay us on an anvil and pound us into crowbars that tear down walls and give our world peace!