A lot has been said in the news and editorials over the past months and years about building a wall to protect the southern borders of the United States from illegal immigrants. The rhetoric in the current election wars has been so strong that Pope Francis called out Donald Trump and said his position on immigration is not Christian. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told reporters. Trump was quick to point out that the Vatican is completely surrounded by “massive walls” and proclaimed, “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith.”
One thing about walls is that they define people – you belong on one side of the wall or the other. America, which was once considered the melting pot of the nations, has become a nation of walls. We are all about the labels. We use them to define ourselves, and we use them to define others. Sometimes we use labels to demean and humiliate others. Sometimes we use them out of political correctness. Most often we use them to simplify the complex nature of our multicultural, multigenerational, multilingual nation.
For the most part, I think labels do more harm than good. When we build walls between groups of people with the words we use to label and compartmentalize them, we create an “us” versus “them” mentality which doesn’t need to exist. Another harm of using labels is that we often group together behind one wall people who are very disparate in what they think and how they act. Over time, a label can even lose its original meaning when it is thoughtlessly applied to too many different people.
To the Pope, being “Christian” means (at least in part) building bridges between people instead of walls. He says Donald Trump is not “Christian” based on this definition. Trump says he is a “Christian,” although he refuses to define the word. “Evangelical Christians” are big supporters of Donald Trump according to national opinion polls, but the polls define that term differently than many committed followers of Jesus would like to see it used. Some Evangelical Christians are even looking for a new label to distinguish themselves from those who hold very different views. For now, they remain rounded up behind the massive walls of “Christianity” with those who are all about building walls and others who want to see all the walls come down.
As much as I dislike walls between people, I have to recognize the necessary existence of one. There is a wall, not made of human hands or defined by human labels, which separates the forgiven and redeemed children of God from the rest of the world. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus called his followers “sheep” who knew his voice. “Very truly,” he said, “I am the gate for the sheep, … whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:7-9). The Bible also says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Many who call themselves Christians recognize this wall and are safe inside its walls. Others are not. That is an unfortunate truth. Even within the sheep-fold of true Christianity are those who fail to act the way Jesus calls his followers to act – with love, forgiveness, and grace. That is also unfortunate. It makes it very difficult to be certain of who is on our side of the wall and who is not. So, in a way, Trump is right, and we need to be careful when using the labels of “Christian” or “Evangelical” when speaking of other people or groups.
But whatever label you use to describe yourself, you can be certain that God knows your heart and he knows which side of the wall you are on. If you have never entered into the sheep-fold through faith in Jesus Christ, don’t despair. The gate is unlocked, and all are invited to enter.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.