Pope Francis said on Wednesday, “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.”
Francis’ defenders claimed that Francis was speaking figuratively, but that’s highly unlikely; the day before, he campaigned for open borders from Ciudad Juarez, and the question that prompted this response explicitly cited Donald Trump.
So, is Francis correct? Is building walls in defense of sovereignty as “un-Christian”?
Well, let’s start with the behavior of the Vatican. As I pointed out yesterday, immigration policy to Vatican City is highly restrictive; so is security. Historically, the Vatican hasn’t been anti-wall, either. The picture above shows the giant wall surrounding Vatican City, originally erected in 852 C.E. in order to prevent another attack like the one by Muslim pirates who damaged St. Peter’s Cathedral in 846. Those walls were expanded under Pope Paul III (1534-1549), Pope Pius IV (1559-1565) and Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644). Paul III’s and Pius IV’s expansions were directed toward preventing another Muslim sack of Rome. (This Pope, it is worth noting, continues to maintain that Europe ought to increase levels of Muslim immigration into the heart of Western territory.)
Then there’s the Bible. As I’m no Christian, I’ll leave the New Testament to those better versed. I will note, however, that the Old Testament – the Tanach – is replete with references to the usefulness of walls. God allowing enemies to breach the walls of Jewish cities is seen as a brutal punishment in Deuteronomy 28:52; similarly, in Nehemiah 2:13, the prophet laments “the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down”; Isaiah, too, laments the “day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord God of hosts in the valley of vision, breaking down the walls, and of crying to the mountains”; the same holds for Psalms 80 and 89, as well as several chapters in Lamentations, as well as the warnings of Ezekiel.
In 2 Chronicles 14, we learn of the good king Asa, who did “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord; he “built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace…’Let us build up these towns,’ he said to Judah, ‘and put walls around them, with towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side.’ So they built and prospered.”
In Psalms 51, David specifically prays that God “do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion; build thou the walls of Jerusalem.” In Psalm 122, David prays, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’” In Psalm 144, David prophesies that “There will be no breaching of walls, no going into captivity, no cry of distress in our streets.”
In Proverbs, Solomon writes, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, without walls.”
Isaiah repeatedly references walls: in chapter 26 (“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts”); chapter 49 (“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me”); chapter 54 (“I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones”); chapter 58 (“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”); chapter 60 (“Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you” and “you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise”); chapter 62 (I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night”). Amos says the same: “In that day ‘I will restore David’s fallen shelter – I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins – an d will rebuild it as it used to be.’” So too says Micah: “The day for building walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries.”
Needless to say, God doesn’t seem particularly perturbed by the idea of walls in the Bible. They’re necessary for defense, and they’re often necessary to draw boundaries between people who live by the Living Word, and people who do not.
Suffice it to say, the Pope’s Biblical exegesis here seems rather weak.