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 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/31/opinion/trump-evangelicals-cyrus-king.html.
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 https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2019/01/04/what-do-about-escalating-numbers-asylum-seeking-families?utm_source=Newsletters&utm_campaign=22a48e97a1-DAILY_CAMPAIGN_2019_1_4&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0fe8ed70be-22a48e97a1-58692321.
On why the words of Abraham Lincoln 154 years ago are so appropriate at the beginning of 2019, see
(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/religion-and-new-beginnings-salvation.html
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(5/24/15): De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/reconciliation-in-race-and-religion.html
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(9/20/15): Politics and Religious Polarization
(11/22/15): Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness
(12/26/15): Resettling Refugees: Multiculturalism versus Assimilation
(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/19/16): Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/08/how-religion-can-bridge-our-political.html
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/8/17): Politics as a Religion and Religion in Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(7/7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/whose-america-is-this-musings-on.html.
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(10/27/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Migrant Tidal Wave
(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?
(11/17/18): Christianity and Clashing Identities in Politics and Religion
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/11/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/8/18): Trump and the Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a Profession of Faith?
(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism
(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politicshttp://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/12/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_29.html.