Trump, the pope, and the Bible

In response to Donald Trump’s call for constructing a wall at our southern border so as to stem the illegal migrations into our country, Pope Francis indicated that Mr. Trump is “not a Christian,” since, as the pope says, “Christians build bridges, not walls.”

As a rabbi, it is not for me to decide what is Christian; however, I can speak to what the Bible says about such matters.  

Throughout the Bible, certainly the Old Testament, God impels us to do those things necessary for self-defense, those things required to ensure safety from disease, and to protect a nation’s borders so as not to suffer economic and health risks or violence.  In Deutoronomy (22:26) we are told that if one sees a young lady being attacked, the good citizen should defend her in all ways necessary so as to protect her chastity, her dignity, and her well-being.  Since we can do that on behalf of others, we can do that in behalf of ourselves.  Self-defense is mentioned also in Exodus 22:1

Self-defense is not something merely permissible, but obligatory, a sacred duty.  The purpose of building a wall is not to be mean-spirited, but to protect innocent American citizens from assaults that are happening, from diseases that are entering the country, and from the reported jihadists coming over the border in stealth with the intent of killing us.  

Prior to multiculturalism becoming the single most important virtue, as designated today by society’s ruling class, there was one virtue that stood above all else – namely, the duty of fathers and mothers to protect their children; brothers to protect their sisters; and a country’s leaders to protect the citizens, who rely on their leaders for such protection.  In all classic religious philosophy, the notion of borders, of sovereignty, of responsibility to first protect those under one’s charge was an uncontested imperative.  Deriding the notion of borders, asking that citizens be vulnerable to safety and health dangers is not part of classical thinking; instead, it reflects an EU type of approach, which advocates a nullification of borders, identity, and distinctive cultures and nationhood.  

If it is un-Christian to engage in self-defense, then it is un-Christian to fight a defensive war.  For sure, this is not a biblical attitude and, I imagine, not in sync with the Protestant outlook upon which this country was founded.  In fact, acts of self-defense constitute not only virtue, but also morality.  Morality is what we ought to do, and, first and foremost, we are required, in the name of personal responsibility, to meet our obligations toward those whom we have freely chosen in relationship.  Mr. Trump has suggested not using weapons, but merely a static, non-aggressive wall to protect Americans who are pleading for protection.  Up until now, nothing has worked; our borders are porous.  A wall would be a major remedy.

Perhaps the good pope has not read of the dozens of Americans who have been physically harmed, their property invaded and trashed, and threatened by those crossing the border illegally.  Worse, under the burden of caring for illegals, many communities, especially in rural areas, have been forced to shut down clinics and hospitals that have gone bankrupt and are made dysfunctional by schools no longer able to teach and educate due to the excessive burdens of unprepared newcomers.

I ask the pope the following question.  No doubt, religion asks that we make sacrifices for others.  But are those sacrifices to be so open-ended and so unpredictable that one is actually required to suffer…and have his children suffer?  At stake here is not merely doing without certain luxuries and opulence; rather, it is actual suffering by tens of thousands of innocent Americans.  The elites asking that we make these enormous sacrifices are not, nor their children, having to sacrifice to any similar degree.

In Exodus (21:19) we are told that we must make every effort to heal ourselves when confronted by disease.  One of the best ways to do so is through preventative measures.  As great as America is, we are not able to defend ourselves from new diseases and viruses running across our borders, which immediately spread out to every hamlet and urban area, from the hill country to the valleys, from the south upward to the north.  No religious figure has the right to tell innocent citizens that the test of religiosity depends upon how willing they are to expose themselves and their children to unforetold disease.  There's an old Jewish saying: "Before worrying about someone else's soul, first make sure not to harm his body."

I know how in certain religious circles the idea of making a living seems secondary to the lofty notions and spiritual intonations regarding sacrifice and open-heartedness.  The fact is, however, that while sacrifice and openheartedness have a significant place in our daily life, they do not supersede the hope God has for us being able to make a living and provide for our families.  People bereft of a job are people bereft of dignity.  When the Bible tells us, “Six days shall ye work,” it sends the message that working to make a living for one’s family is not only noble, but also an end in itself.  All countries must at times adjust immigration downward so as not to foreclose on their own citizens the possibility for dignified work and compensation.

We are becoming a nation of unemployed, people without sustaining jobs.  Receiving years of unemployment from the government, culminating often in permanent welfare recipient status, is not a solution.  It may provide the wherewithal to eat, but it strips the recipient of dignity and purpose and takes away the wherewithal to strive and be proud.

Religious thinkers have always made a distinction between what is incumbent upon the individual and what nations must do as a way of protecting their citizens.  Whereas individuals are to give charity, a nation has no right, in the name of charity, to enact redistribution of wealth.  To those who do not believe in nationhood, the idea of leaders of a particular nation first protecting the country’s citizens sounds strange.  But most of us still believe in nationhood, in national identity, and gravitate to those societies where we feel that these protections will be granted.  In fact, in Exodus (34:12), when speaking to the children of Israel, God says: “I shall protect your borders so that strangers and enemies whom you do not know will not enter your camp and become thistles in your side who will afflict you.”  Nationhood, and a nation with secure borders, is a biblically blessed concept.

In the name of multiculturalism, and in the hope by many to deface America’s historic uniqueness, there are many cheering on what is becoming an invasion: an invasion to change America by those wishing to exploit illegal immigration as a way of assuring their election, empowering their party, and transforming America into Europe or the Middle East.  In the name of all this, the American people are being asked not only to sacrifice physical protection, and open themselves up to disease, bankruptcy, unemployment, and loss of home, but also to forfeit liberties and a way of life.  

There are those in liberal politics and in certain religious precincts who do not look at liberty as an ultimate value.  Indeed, they see the socially engineered society, the top-down controlled society, as the utopia, the ultimate dream.  For them, open-ended immigration is a crisis solvable by changing how we have lived until now, by curtailing certain freedoms we are accustomed to.  But it was liberty that made America great.  The Bible itself cherishes liberty: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.”  If the illegal invasions continue, our liberties will continue to be taken from us.

The pope castigates us for wanting to build a wall...and not bridges.  The truth is, we need bridges and we need walls.  America, the world’s top destination for immigrants, has created enormous bridges of understanding as well as bridges of assistance to those in need.  But we should not be in the business of building a bridge when a wall is needed, especially not a bridge that becomes a pathway to national suicide.

Rabbi Spero is author of Push Back, Reclaiming the American Judeo-Christian Spirit.

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