The world was ecstatic with joy when on November 9, 1989 the Berlin wall ‘fell’. Since 1961 the wall had split the city in two parts. After World War II there were two Germany’s, and now there were also two Berlins. The city was painfully cut in two, with families and friends separated from each other. When people tried to scale the wall shots were fired, sometimes with fatal consequences. Some attempt to flee to the West were successful, for others they ended in tragedy. The Berlin wall was a construction of concrete, but it functioned also as a symbol for everything that separates humans from each other. Of one thing we were sure in 1989: this must never happen again. This is something we do not want to see again, ever!
This was just over 25 years ago. For people in Western-Europe Berlin has become a favorite destination for a long weekend, a few days away from home. Tourists look for the small portion of the wall that remains and they visit the museum, close to the former Checkpoint Charlie, that tells them about the wall and attempts to pass it. But, other than that, the wall sinks ever deeper in our collective memory.
Strangely enough, today we once more see and hear political leaders and political parties that want to build walls. ‘Large numbers of people in Western Europe loudly proclaim that we must ‘close our borders’. Sad to say: We hear such voices also in the Netherlands! These voices are, in fact, calling for new walls, while not so long ago we were delighted that we could travel in a large part of Europe without ever showing a passport.
We hear people about the need for physical walls, barriers of barbed wire, or high fences that will stop the movement op people flooding into Europe. The argument is that we must create a barrier to stop the tsunami of refugees. We are told that there are actually lots of fortune hunters, (economic refugees) among the asylum-seekers. The Balkan-route must no longer be an attractive option.
On the other side of the ocean Donald Trump tirelessly advocates the construction of a barrier along the Southern border of the United States, to stop the flow of Mexicans. He has said that he would also like to see a fence along the border between the United States and Canada, but he realizes this is somewhat more difficult to realize, with a border that stretches over many thousands of miles.
In some exceptional cases it may be necessary to build a wall. As long as we have prisons it may be unavoidable. And who can forbid homeowners to put a fence around their property? But, in general, the principle should be: building bridges is much better than constructing walls. Civilized nations—certainly when they brag about their Judeo-Christian roots—must do everything they can to prevent the erection of walls between nations and people groups.
The New Testament tells us (Ephesians 2:14-16) that Jesus came to remove all walls between people. In his days there still was a barrier in the precinct of the Jerusalem temple, between the area that was reserved for the Jews and the section where others were also allowed. This wall, we are told, has been removed forever. It is a symbol for the removal of all walls between people, everywhere.
I do not deny that our political leaders face immense problems around illegal immigration and that the refugee crisis in Europe is extremely complicated. But building walls cannot be part of a solution. And, by the way, this also applies to the church. Whenever there are walls between individuals or groups, who have diverse opinions or interests, we need builders of bridges and not of builders of walls.