Walls or Bridges?

Pastor Dave's monthly newsletter article for March, 2016

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [Jesus; St. Luke 13:34]

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian” [Pope Francis; February 17, 2016]

I love politics. I love following the political maneuvering and positioning of political candidates. And this year has been about as entertaining as it has ever been during my adult life. Entertaining and unpredictable!

Both of these adjectives apply to the recent spat between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Pope Francis. It seems that Mr. Trump has accused the Pope of being a political pawn, and the Pope has accused Mr. Trump of being unChristian.

To be fair to the Holy Father, he didn’t go out looking for a fight. He was responding to a reporter who asked him about a statement made by Mr. Trump:

“I think that the pope is a very political person… I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is.” [Donald Trump; Fox Business Network, Feb. 5, 2016]

In my lifetime, I can’t remember a Pope ever insinuating publicly that someone is not a Christian. However, as I suggested in my February 21st sermon, I suspect that Pope Francis doesn’t have only Mr. Trump in mind. Certainly he is aware of how strong Mr. Trump’s support is in this country. Certainly he has noticed the groundswell of interest in a candidate who proposes to build a massive wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. When he distinguishes between wall-building people and bridge-building people, perhaps the Pope is challenging all U.S. voters to ground our political instincts and our international sensibilities in God’s word.

The reality is, when it comes to refugees and sojourners Christians don’t have the luxury of preferring walls over bridges. From the very beginning, God commanded us to care about aliens in our midst (as early as Exodus 20:10). Israel spent forty years wandering in a strange land before entering into the land God promised to Abraham. Jesus (St. Matthew 2:13-23) spent the first years of his life as a political refugee in Egypt. He went on to have a soft spot for outsiders (St. Luke 4:23-30, St. Luke 19:1-10, St. John 4:1-30…). God commands us to care for the needs of refugees, strangers, and sojourners, and personally models what this looks like. One cannot take our scriptures seriously and deny this.

There are some important conversations our country needs to have about immigration policy. It will be no easy task to balance our concern for national security with our commitment to be a country bold enough to declare, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…” But it is a task we must undertake. And it would be unfaithful — even unChristian! — to do so in a way that disregards the needs of those who stand at our borders or who wash up on our shores.

Pope Francis is right. A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian; at least is not behaving like one. Does he challenge you and me with these words? If so, the question laid at our feet is this: Do we kill the prophet — stone the messenger sent to us — or do we take it to heart, and ask ourselves what God wants from us?

Pastor Dave