MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are going to go back to a question that consumed the U.S. government, in fact, led to a partial shutdown of the government last month, the question of additional physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. There already are some barriers, as you probably know, but the argument is over whether additional ones would actually make a difference or are worth the cost. As you probably also know, President Trump has made this a high priority. But we've been asking a different question. Is it moral? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among other Democrats and some activists, have laid down a very specific marker on the wall, calling it an immorality.
Last week, we heard from Shaun Casey, a theologian and former State Department official who's written widely about the intersection of faith and politics. He's currently at Georgetown University. This week, we are hearing another prominent thinker from a different perspective, the Reverend Robert Jeffress. He's pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He's one of President Trump's closest evangelical advisors. For example, he offered prayers at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. And he is with us now on the line from his church in Dallas. Pastor Jeffress, thank you so much for talking with us once again.
ROBERT JEFFRESS: Great to be back with you, Michel.
MARTIN: So Speaker Pelosi might be the most high-profile person to make the argument that the wall is immoral, but she's not the only one. I take it you disagree.
JEFFRESS: Well, I do. And, look, I mean, to say that a wall is immoral or, as the pope said earlier this year, unchristian, I think is beyond reason. Walls are not moral or immoral in and of themselves. It depends on the purpose for which they're being used. And for government to use a barrier to protect its security and its sovereignty I believe is in keeping with what the Bible says, is the God-given purpose of government, you know? I preach the sermon on Inauguration Day for President Trump and his family. And I told the Old Testament story of Nehemiah, whom God ordered to build a wall around Jerusalem to protect the citizens. And, as an aside, I said Mr. President, God is not against walls.
MARTIN: There are other texts, though, in the Bible that bring down walls that are also quite well-known. I mean, and the holy texts of the Judeo-Christian ethic are also very clear about the need to offer welcome to the stranger, to protect the vulnerable. Is there a biblical warrant for a wall in your view?
JEFFRESS: Absolutely. And when God told the Israelites to be kind to, take care of the aliens and the foreigners in your land - but he goes on to say the reason for that. He said to Israel because you were once aliens and foreigners in Egypt. And that's the key, Michel, to understanding what the Bible is saying. Israel came to Egypt as welcomed guests, not as illegal immigrants. They were invited to come. Pharaoh invited Jacob and his family to come and settle there. And I believe America is the kindest most compassionate nation in the world to those who come into our country, legally. But there is no biblical basis for illegal immigration.
MARTIN: For those who take a different view, I don't know that it's so much a question of the wall itself is that what is the duty to people who are fleeing oppression and suffering. And that I think they consider to be the higher duty than maintaining this physical barrier to keep people out. So how do you understand that?
JEFFRESS: Well, again, I think we need to be sympathetic toward those who are fleeing oppression. I think, as a practical basis, there is probably a limit to how many people America can take. But I think government has to balance that call for compassion with the call for protection. And so I think government has to do a balancing act here. And, you know, I know somewhat of the heart of this president. I don't believe he's a mean-spirited man. I believe him to be very compassionate. I've sat in the Oval Office with him and heard him agonize over the DACA situation, wanting to help the DREAMers, in fact, wanting to do much more than the Republican establishment wanted to do.
MARTIN: And before we let you go, let's just go back again to something you referenced early, which is what do you think your role in this is. I know that you're a very strong supporter of the present. You just tweeted just a few - just a little while ago, thank God for this president. Your specific concern that you were referencing was abortion policy in this country. So I know that you're a strong supporter of him. But what do you think your role in this debate is?
JEFFRESS: I believe my job as a preacher of God's word is to speak to what God's word says about every issue, including immigration. And I think people need to understand that God has created the church for one purpose. He created the family for another. But the third institution he created was government, and government's distinct responsibility is to maintain order and protect its citizens. And I think it's wrong to vilify President Trump or any government official who's trying to fulfill that God-given and unique responsibility of government.
MARTIN: Well, but you disagree with other political leaders. I mean, there are other political leaders who you don't think are doing their job to protect the public. And, I mean, if supporting government in all of its decisions was biblical, then there wouldn't have been an American revolution, would there?
JEFFRESS: Oh, I don't support government and all of its decisions. I think, for example, New York state, Virginia - their late-term abortion bills are barbaric and ought to be opposed at every level. I think Roe v. Wade is barbaric and ought to be opposed. I don't have any trouble calling out government when they're wrong.
MARTIN: That is Dr. Robert Jeffress. He is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, and we reached him at his office there. Pastor Jeffress, thanks so much for talking to us.
JEFFRESS: Always good to be with you, Michel. Thank you.
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