Saturday, January 5, 2019

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

America is caught up in a timeless conflict on whether to build political walls or bridges for immigrants.  Over 500 years before the coming of Jesus, King Cyrus of Persia/Babylon liberated Jews from exile, and when they returned to Israel they expelled all non-Jews.  They built walls, but later Jesus taught that we should build bridges rather than walls for others.

The 45th chapter of Isaiah chronicles Cyrus’ liberating the Jews from exile in Babylon, and the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah chronicle the actions of the Jews afterward cleansing their homeland of non-Jews.  The Hebrew Bible emphasizes Jewish ethnic exclusivity in the Holy Land, sometimes with violence, from the time of Joshua at Jericho to Ezra and Nehemiah.

Jesus was a maverick Jew who opposed religious and ethnic exclusivity by emphasizing universal altruism with love over law in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors--including our neighbors of other races and religions--as we love ourselves.  But to gain popularity and power, the church has promoted worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God in the Trinity rather than following Jesus as the word of God.

That misplaced emphasis allowed Christianity to become the world’s most popular and powerful religion, and the history of Christianity is replete with stories of religious exclusivity, sometimes with violence, from the Crusades to the Inquisitions and beyond.  In fact, Christians may have outdone their Jewish forbears in religious exclusivity, despite the teachings of Jesus.

Religious history has a way of returning to haunt its devout descendants.  The story of Cyrus, a non-Jew, as God’s chosen liberator of the Jews, has been embraced by evangelical Christians like Lance Wallnau, who acknowledge that Donald Trump is immoral, but believe that he was chosen by God “to restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

It’s not hard to extrapolate an anti-immigration bias of Christian fundamentalists based on Old Testament stories that preempt the teachings of Jesus.  Such fundamentalist religious beliefs undermine the foundations of democracy in a pluralistic world. Ironically, modern Jews are more likely to embrace the universal altruism taught of Jesus than most white Christians.

Over 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians, but what kind of Christians?  Are they wall builders like the ancient Jews who returned to Israel after their captivity in Babylon, or are they liberators of the oppressed (de oppresso  liber) like Cyrus, and as Jesus saw himself when he spoke in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21; see also Isaiah 61:1)?

Over 154 years ago, Abraham Lincoln challenged Americans who had endured a terrible Civil War to build bridges of political reconciliation and peace, not walls of hate and violence.  ““With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds . . . and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

In the years that followed, the walls of racial hatred persisted in America and once again have polarized American politics and threaten to unravel the fabric of American democracy.  That’s evident in the immigration policies of Donald Trump and his evangelical supporters. The future of democracy depends on whether Christians choose to build political walls or bridges.


Katherine Stewart of the NY Times has opined on Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus and the nature of the Christian nationalists who support Donald Trump as their own God-sent liberator: Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. “It is God that raises up a king,” according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.  The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times. ...Of course, there are those on the Christian right who have made a show of holding their noses while supporting Mr. Trump to advance their aims of stacking the Supreme Court or ending abortion. But we are kidding ourselves if we think their continuing support for him is purely transactional.  ...This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself. See

Jesus taught that leaders should be servants, in contrast to conventional political wisdom that expects leaders to be forceful and authoritative; Christians need to decide which model they support in politics:
Mark 9: 33-35 (NIV): 33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Mark 10:42-44 (NIV): 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

The Catholic Church provides humanitarian bridges rather than a wall for asylum seekers in Texas with centers that offer a compassionate contrast to overcrowded government detention facilities.  See
On why the words of Abraham Lincoln 154 years ago are so appropriate at the beginning of 2019, see          

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  1. Well Said Rudy,
    A large task before us that we can begin, one person at a time, offering an extended hand and love to those who come before us in our lives. I pray for continued Grace that I might be humbled enough, and strong enough to do every day as Jesus asked us to do.

  2. Amen to that, my friend. I also pray for God's grace to follow Jesus in a world that seems to have rejected his teachings on altruistic love--and that includes most churches that emphasize the cheap grace of worshiping Jesus rather than following him.