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Fences don’t make good neighbors

12.29. 2017 Written By: Cyneatha Millsaps

Cyneatha Millsaps is Pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois. This piece originally appeared in the January issue of The Mennonite. Only 1/3 of our print article are published online. Subscribe now to receive each issue in your mailbox or e-mail inbox:

Walls are everywhere.

All we seem to talk about as a nation and even globally are walls. The United States is obsessed with building a wall on its southern border.

Why are we so nervous about sharing space? What do we think the wall will protect us from?

A 2003 report commissioned by the Pentagon on climate change shows the thought process of the U.S. administration. The document states that due to climate change in the southern hemisphere, we (the U.S.) needed to protect ourselves from starving migrants. (See An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall.)

Starving migrants? What does that say about us as Christians? That our goal is to protect ourselves by hoarding our resources from people who are starving? That goes against everything we believe as Christ followers.

The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) should make us rethink our need for walls. The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops.“ Then he said, “I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:16-20)

Have we, too, set in motion our future relationship with God by hoarding our resources and creating barriers from those seeking food and refuge? The U.S. government also believes a wall should be built on the southern border of Mexico, closing off Central American countries and making them more vulnerable to devastating climate change. What will happen to these countries when the next superstorm sweeps across the region and they are walled off from the rest of the North American continent? When we don’t question walls’ importance, we eventually think they are normal.

As I traveled in southern Africa last fall, I was amazed that even poor communities had walls. Why? The walls have simply become part of the culture. Build a house, add a fence or a wall.

What will the wall or fencing do to who we claim to be as Christ followers? Todd Miller has given us a glimpse into the possibilities in his book Storming the Wall: “If nothing changes, we will find ourselves living in an increasingly militarized world of surveillance, razor wire, border walls, armed patrols, detention centers and relocation camps. Such a world already exists, but the militarization will intrude ever more deeply into our everyday lives, our schools, our transportation, our communities and our sense of citizenship, community and humanity itself.”

What happens when you are the undesirable because of your age, race, gender, ethnicity or geography?

The danger of our Anabaptist communities is that most us never think about these things because we don’t live on the margins. Your age, race and gender are part of a protected class. But clearly those who have long experienced the benefits of colonialism are feeling the ground shift below their feet. So much so that we believe governments when they say we should fear the other, which is just a tactic to remain in power.

King Herod sent the Magi to find the Christ child under the pretense of honor, but his real intent was to destroy. Governments today are playing those same games, and we as children of the Light must resist such claims. We are told we need walls to protect us. We need walls to divide us. We need walls because it makes for good neighbors.

Fences don’t make good neighbors; they simply provide barriers to community and to the opportunity to share the love of Christ with others.

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