I’m building a wall / a fine wall / not so much to keep you out / more to keep me in
(Tenant & Lowe, 2009)
How do walls protect us? How might they weaken us? Those are the questions I’ve been pondering this week amid President Trump’s temporary ban on refugee resettlement in the US and order for a wall to be built along the US-Mexico border.
At a private Inauguration Day service, Dr. Robert Jeffress “compared Trump to the story of the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel” (Bailey, 2017). Jeffress said, among other things, that God is not against building walls. He continued:
Any true leader is going to face criticism…Nehemiah had his own share of critics. Two of his chief antagonists were named Sanballat and Tobiah. They were the mainstream media of their day. They continued to hound and heckle Nehemiah and spread false rumors while he and the Israelites were building the wall. (Bailey, 2017)
The Bible indeed suggests that Sanballat and Tobiah had influential voices. However, the comparison with mainstream media, and by extension, anyone who criticizes the Trump Agenda, ignores a critical aspect of interpreting history: Context. Unlike Sanballat and Tobiah, whose aim appears to be personal gain (Bible Hub, 2016a; Bible Hub, 2016b), the vast majority of mainstream media seems to be calling for Trump to demonstrate the Christian values he professes. That’s a fundamentally different message—one that merits consideration.
Americans want America to be great, but how we achieve greatness matters. Christ asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36 NIV). He also instructs that we should seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness first, and “all these things”—including physical security and sustenance—will be given as well (Matthew 6:33).
Still, according to Jeffress the President’s work is far too important to stop and answer his critics (Bailey, 2017). His argument assumes that leveraging conflict and being distracted by it are one and the same. They are not. Drs. Paul J. H. Schoemaker and George S. Day, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania—Trump’s alma mater—wrote:
Just as having two eyes allows humans to use triangulation and parallax for depth perception, organizations should use multiple perspectives to provide greater peripheral vision. Unlike humans, organizations can draw upon more than two eyes to make sense of what they’re seeing. Each single view may have its biases, but several views together allow organizations to see what’s really going on and identify new opportunities. (Schoemaker & Day, 2009, p.43)
The leadership lesson is that walls are not merely physical barriers. They are also spiritual barriers. When we build them to protect a myopic vision at the expense of diplomacy, empathy, and most importantly, compassion, we effectively blind ourselves to the long-term repercussions. Ask yourself, is God really okay with that?
Bailey, S. P. (2017, January 20). ‘God is not against building walls!’ The sermon Trump heard from Robert Jeffress before his inauguration. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://www.washingtonpost.com
Bible Hub. (2016). Topical Bible: Sanballat. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://biblehub.com/topical/s/sanballat.htm
Bible Hub. (2016). Topical Bible: Tobiah. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://biblehub.com/topical/t/tobiah.htm
Schoemaker, P. J. H., & Day, G. S. (2009). How to make sense of weak signals. In G. R. Hickman (Ed.), Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era (2nd ed., pp. 37–47). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Tenant, N. & Lowe, C. (2009). Building a wall [Recorded by Pet Shop Boys]. On Yes [CD]. UK: Parlophone.