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 Spirituality: The Abomination of Fences

OpinionBy Howard Bess

In the small Midwestern farm town in which I was born and raised there were no fences. We had a back yard, a front yard and side yards, but no fences. The school yards at the elementary schools that I attended had no fences. We had neighbors and I knew most everyone who lived in the 2,300 population community. The doors of our home were never locked. Such was life in Fairbury.

The only fences of which I was aware were found on the farms that surrounded my town. Fences were for horses, cows and pigs.

I attended college and graduate school in Chicago suburbs. Again I saw no fences except for one phenomenon. Rich people lived in big houses and typically fenced themselves in. That was my first clue that fences were somehow a special part of the lives of wealthy people.

After graduate school I moved to California. I purchased a very small house in a new subdivision. My neighbors started putting up fences. To my horror, I was fenced “out” by my neighbors. I think back on my experience moving from the Midwest to Southern California and try to understand the culture shock that I experienced. I lived in Southern California for 22 years, always enclosed by a fence. Californians added another wrinkle. Homes were built with garages that could be opened by a click of an opener. Entrance to homes was from a door from the garage. To get to know my neighbors, I had to work very hard at the task. I never became a Californian.

My own special addiction is studying the Bible. It is the most anti-fence book ever assembled. ...

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The most famous fence found in the Bible is the security wall that was built around the city of Jericho. God directed Joshua in the removal of the wall. Not a sling-shot was fired nor a sword raised. Joshua and his men simply blew some trumpets and God did the rest. The wall fell flat. That is the image that comes to mind when I think of all those fences that are in place across modern America.

Theologically the Bible case against fences is much more explicit in the teachings about relating to neighbors. When reading the Bible, the reader needs to be aware that there is more than one answer to the question of what to do about neighbors. Some Old Testament writers say to kill them in the name of God if they do not behave themselves. Other writers take the high road and in the name of the same God, feed them, welcome them and love them.

Jesus made clear where he came down in the neighbor argument. He said that love of neighbor was a law of the Most High, coming just after the command to love God with heart, mind, strength and soul. He even called this second command “like unto the first.” Jesus expanded on his neighbor comment to include enemies. I suspect that some of his professed followers thought he went a bit too far with his neighbor understanding.

This brings us to the most expensive, most sophisticated fence ever built by human beings. The United States, the most immigrant welcoming nation in history has decided that there are too many Mexicans who want to live in the United States. With the support of 2/3 of the American population, the United States is building a fence from California to Texas to keep those Mexicans out of the U.S. Typically the fence is 22 feet high and five feet below ground level. I have seen pictures of this marvel in fence building. It is impressive. The cost is up to about five billion. The cost of guards and maintenance of the fence is permanently big-time spending even by American standards.

The fence will not work to keep Mexicans out of the U.S.

I have a special friend who lives in Southern California. He is the son of an undocumented Mexican orange picker. My friend was smart and was the benefactor of the California school system. His master’s degree is in Mexican history. He was a teacher and retired as the principal of a public school. He explained that a fence could never stop the flow of Mexicans to America. The reason is simple. Mexicans do not recognize or respect the boarder. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were once a part of Mexico. Texas declared independence and later joined the United States, but the other territories were taken from Mexico in a war initiated by the United States. Southern States wanted the territories for expansion of slavery. Abraham Lincoln, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, opposed the war as immoral.

Mexicans have not forgotten that the United States stole the Southwest by brute military force. My friend firmly believes the Southwest will eventually become dominated by Mexicans and Mexican culture. We are seeing that happen. The fence is an attempt to delay the inevitable.

The United States has no obligation to Christian morality. However, Christians have an obligation to speak to the nation when our collective behavior is unacceptable and a violation of the second great commandment. THE fence is an abomination. The Christian answer is love of neighbor, even when perceived as enemies. Fences have never made for good neighbors. They must not be a part of American foreign policy.

The End


The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is [email protected]


[08 July 2013]

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