Walls hinder just relationships everywhere. Global, national and local communities have erected emotional, social and psychological walls that create uncertainty. Conflicts among religious, cultural and ethnic factions consume everyday existence. Violence in our communities is an everyday occurrence. Political and social disagreements erode relationships, and nothing seems to get done.
In Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” a man says, “Good fences make good neighbors,” when asked why his neighbor rebuilds the stone fence that separates two farms. Physical fences and walls may promote physical peace. Erecting invisible walls builds distrust, hatred, division and destructive behavior.
Unlike many societies, we are free to exercise differing views about the world. We can engage in lifestyles that reflect our beliefs. Personal choice rules the day. Identities become synonymous with the walls we build. Individuals and groups erect social, religious and cultural walls to protect themselves from others who are different. Though invisible, they are difficult to penetrate. Many hesitate to engage in creative dialogue and decision-making for fear their positions will be altered.
Like society in general, economic, social and religious walls have been erected in faith communities.
Many have claimed their “territory.” Some refuse to engage anyone who does not agree with them. Compassion has taken a backseat to individualism. Anxiety exists.
During the height of the 1992 Los Angeles riot, Rodney King asked, “Can we all get along?” We can still ask that question today. We can’t get along when we let invisible walls imprison us. We don’t exist in a vacuum!
Getting along requires the walls that separate us must be torn down. The walls demonstrate a lack of respect for life. These walls are difficult to penetrate. These walls are built from preoccupation with self. The desire for reconciliation gets blotted out by cries of “me, mine and ours.” Volumes have been written about walls in relationships. In his 1965 Must Walls Divide? publication, Vincent Harding says walls don’t have to divide. Not enough progress has been made in the 49 years since.
In the midst of preoccupation with individualistic goals, can walls that sever our relationships be dismantled?
The early church, which faced what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, can teach Christians how to tear down walls. Walls were constructed by culture, hatred, inequality and religious exclusiveness. Barriers Cornelius and Peter encountered in Acts placed them light years apart. Their walls were torn down by the centrality of Jesus’s commandment of love, respect and mutual accountability.
In their new-found faith, early Christians of different ethnic groups, who had varied political, cultural and spiritual understandings, came together to build a just society. They built bridges, instead of walls, through acts of love, self-denial and obedience.
People who want to bring sanity back into human relationships are looking to the church for answers. As world citizens, the church has a significant role to play in tearing down invisible walls.
The faith community can boldly declare that walls must not and will not divide us. Can you make this declaration?
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.