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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — Bishop William J. Barber called out evangelical leaders Joel Osteen and Tony Perkins during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border this week where a stretch of replacement fencing is nearing completion.
“They say they follow Jesus, who tore down the wall, and yet they are not speaking out,” Barber said during the Monday demonstration, referring to the biblical wall of Jericho. “They continue to endorse a president and endorse his wrong and consecrate his sin, and endorse and consecrate his racism.”
About 60 people gathered with Barber at the wall, several representing the Black Lives Matter movement, Border Network for Human Rights, United Tribal Nations, and About Face: Veterans Against the War. Barber, a Protestant minister from North Carolina, led chants of “tear down this wall,” while others held letters that spelled, “No Hate, No Walls.”
While evangelicals and the “religious right” have become the dominant image of American Christianity in the political sphere, Barber has been pushing an alternative. Since 2013, he’s been holding “Moral Mondays,” social justice protests led by a coalition of progressive religious leaders.
When a photo of evangelical leaders praying for President Trump in the Oval Office circulated on the Internet this summer, Barber called the display “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”
White evangelicals have long favored the Republican candidate in presidential elections, delivering about 81 percent of their vote to Trump in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. Among all Protestants, about 58 percent voted for Trump.
During the border protest this week, Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, reached across through spaces in the metal fence and blessed several children that came to ask for a dollar from protesters and organizers.
“I just looked through that wall and didn’t see criminals or rapists,” Barber said, referring to Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants during the 2016 campaign. “I saw children.”
Congress approved the wall replacement project in 2006, a bipartisan decision. The fencing in that area is concrete filled metal, which replaced wire-fencing.
“This wall is a form of rape, it rapes people’s opportunity and rapes them of their hopes and dreams. This wall is wrong,” Barber said during the protest.
Organizers said that while the movement may have a long way to go to overcome intolerance and racism, they are pushing forward in the hopes of a reformed immigration system.
During the protest, people reached through the fence to hold hands with and hug friends and family members on the Mexican side of the border.
“It’s been 15 years since I’ve seen her,” Maria De Santiago said while hugging family-friend Virginia Santana through spaces in the fence. De Santiago and Santana said they were surprised at the turn against Mexican immigrants the U.S. has taken. This area is close to El Paso, Texas, where friends and family members once crossed seamlessly between Mexico and the United States and where culture between the countries has always been shared.
“If you think about, it’s like we are in own prison. We can’t go back to visit family, and they can’t come here,” De Santiago said.
Luz Maria Ordaz, who attended the protest, said her husband was deported two years ago and she hasn’t seen her daughter in 16 years. She added that she felt that tolerance in the U.S. has taken a horrible downturn.
“It’s not right that they keep separating families,” she said in Spanish. “They say that they are deporting criminals — but my husband didn’t have a single criminal record, or a ticket because he didn’t drive. I just hope for better immigration reform.”
The nonviolent action was part of a 14-state tour for the Poor People’s Campaign, who is connecting with communities struggling for the rights of housing, education and working wage.
Barber and National Co-Chair Rev. Liz Theoharis said they want to create a march of consciousness in the country so that the will to build walls comes “tumbling down.”
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