What’s in a wall? A lot of meaning to be sure, as the raging debate in the U.S. shows. I’ve been asked if there is a Catholic position on the building of a wall along our southern border. There is no Church teaching on such a matter, and I don’t think that there should be.
Walls speak to many different things. Our homes have walls and doors. Every ancient city had walls. The Vatican has walls. Gosh, even Heaven has walls and gates—and a very strict immigration policy! (See Revelation 21:12, Luke 13:25) In this sense walls are protective, keeping those within secure, providing privacy, and preventing the entry of harmful forces.
On the other hand, many of us remember the Berlin Wall and the horror it represented. It was akin to a large prison wall, keeping people who desired freedom from escaping to a better world. There was great joy around the globe when it finally came down in 1989.
Perspective and experience also affect one’s opinion on walls. In Israel, walls were erected dividing Jewish and Palestinian areas. Most citizens of Israel approve and point to a reduction in bombings and other violence. Those from Gaza and Bethlehem, however, are more likely to cite the crushing poverty brought about by economic isolation.
Fences, too, provoke widely different reactions. One adage says, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but another is the cautionary “Don’t fence me in.” The first saying speaks to the peace that comes from agreed-upon and respected boundaries, while the other bemoans unnecessary restrictions on advancement.
Scripture speaks differently about walls, depending on the context: We read, A strong city have we, God sets up walls and ramparts to protect us (Isaiah 26:1), but also For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). Walls are not intrinsically evil, nor are they always good. The context matters.