Walls That Divide

This 'Eb' version is helpful when using transposing instruments (trumpet, clarinet, etc.) — or for those who just don't like playing in 4 sharps!

Music by Ron Klusmeier
Words by Walter Farquharson
Tune Name: KARR

Lyrics as Poetry

Though ancient walls may still stand proud
and racial strife be fact,
though boundaries may be lines of hate,
proclaim God’s saving act!

Walls that divide are broken down;
Christ is our unity!
Chains that enslave are thrown aside;
Christ is our liberty!
When vested power stands firm entrenched
and breaks another’s back,
when waste and want live side by side,
it’s Gospel that we lack.

Walls that divide are broken down;
Christ is our unity!
Chains that enslave are thrown aside;
Christ is our liberty!
The truth we seek in varied scheme,
the life that we pursue,
unites us in a common quest
of self and world made new.

Walls that divide are broken down;
Christ is our unity!
Chains that enslave are thrown aside;
Christ is our liberty!
The church divided seeks that grace,
that newness we proclaim,
a unity of serving love
that lives praise to God’s name.

Walls that divide are broken down;
Christ is our unity!
Chains that enslave are thrown aside;
Christ is our liberty!
This broken world seeks lasting health
and vital unity.
God’s people, by God’s Word renewed,
cast off all slavery.

Walls that divide are broken down;
Christ is our unity!
Chains that enslave are thrown aside;
Christ is our liberty!

Words by
Walter FarquharsonCopyright © 1974 by Walter Farquharson
Administered by Hope Publishing Company
Carol Stream, Illinois • USA

Comments About Song

A Reflection by

When the World Council of Churches met in Nairobi, Kenya in 1975, the Assembly selected as its theme a passage from the Letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 2:11-22).  This letter addressed the often bitter division within the early church between those members who had come out of the Jewish tradition and the Gentile or non-Jewish converts.   

The planners for this Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches placed particular emphasis upon verse 14, “He (Christ) has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” 

Musicians and hymn writers were invited to offer new hymns that would, for our time, speak of the walls of hostility that for centuries marked the division of the church into conflicting and competitive denominations.  Equally, and perhaps more importantly, was the task of identifying and addressing the other divisions that possessed great power to divide humankind.  Human greed and attitudes of superiority based on race, ethnicity, or religious and political ideologies created a multiplicity of dividing walls of hostility. “Walls that Divide Are Broken Down” was the contribution Ron Klusmeier and I were able to offer in response to that call. It definitely became one of the best known and most sung of the hymns we have produced.  I was personally deeply moved when Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke to me of his appreciation of the hymn’s strength and breadth.

The words and music of this song combine to challenge church and society to create a more just world while affirming that such re-creation and reforming of the world is God’s work and intention.

God’s intention is echoed through the law and the prophets but also in the work of dreamers and visionaries of subsequent centuries. Walls that divide ARE broken down! Chains that enslave ARE thrown aside! Our call is to live that reality – to proclaim it and to actualize it. 

It is often said that churches should not meddle in politics. What this too often means is that churches should affirm the existing political powers and ways of operating. Churches should be vigilant that they do not become captive to any political party or government and that they do not buy into the assertions of any political ideology. Power, any power, can become self-serving very quickly. As Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 

When anti-slavery voices were raised in some churches prior to and during the Civil War in the USA , many critics called out against those churches, and particularly some of their clergy, for becoming too political. As the much more recent marches and protests opposing segregation in the USA began to become a force to be reckoned with, again there were calls to the churches to “stay out of politics”. The Billy Graham Crusades affected supposed neutrality by “following local custom”. What they, and many others did not see was that this supposedly non-political stance was totally political and a strong vote for continued segregation! Within Canada, a misguided buying into political policies that used residential schools to effectively erode much of First Nations’ culture was a political choice churches made that compromised the churches and visited great harm on individuals, families and communities among First Nations.

The popular hymn “All things bright and beautiful” written in 1848 by Cecil Frances Alexander was designed as a children’s hymn affirming the goodness of creation.  But it also made a powerful political statement in a verse seldom seen today.  That verse said:

“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.”

Had the hymn asserted that all, rich and poor, were children of God, it would not have been particularly “political”.  But Mrs. Alexander goes on to say that the rich are rich and the poor are poor because “God…ordered their estate.” In other words, God chose who would be rich and who would be poor. Supposedly, it was God’s intention that societal divisions should stay the way they were.  Whether, if she had been challenged and had been asked if that was what she truly believed, she might have said “Yes” or she might have seen that she was simply assuming that the status quo (whatever it might be) was not to be challenged by the gospel.

Politics is simply the way in which a society organizes itself. We, in Canada, live in a democracy. Our system of government is that of a parliamentary democracy. Our political and judicial systems operate under a rule of law built up and reformed with changing times and changing problems and possibilities. Few of life’s concerns do not have political implications. Our current political reality has been largely shaped by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. 

To assume that politics and faith do not “mix”, or do not come into conflict, is to ignore much of what we read in the Scriptures and much of what is strongly interwoven in our faith traditions.

The effective beginning of the Hebrew story is that of a slave people led to freedom under the leadership of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. That is a political beginning. A Law develops that is understood as God-given and for which the people are the responsible stewards and appliers. All are subject to the Law. Prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, spoke God’s word to the powerful – the rulers, the wealthy, the religious authorities. Nor were their voices welcomed or appreciated by the powerful. King Ahab spoke for a host of those who found, and find, the prophetic voice unsettling. “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah answered, “I have not troubled Israel but you have …” (1 Kings 18:17-18). Centuries later the English King, Henry II, lamented, “Will no-one rid me of this troublesome priest?”  The priest in question was Thomas a Beckett whose opposition to the claim of absolute power Henry was asserting led to Becket’s martyrdom. 

Our Scriptures have two accounts of the Ten Commandments. In the one, the keeping of the Sabbath celebrates creation and God’s resting to admire all that had been created. The second account found in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 is much more political, much more about emulating the justice of God, “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”

The Deuteronomic ethic is based upon the Exodus experience. The “fair labour laws” arise out of the awareness that the Hebrews had themselves been slaves – and their liberation was to have profound influence on how they lived in community – even to their treatment of slaves and aliens.

Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate, a Governor within the Roman Empire.  The crime was treason.  Jesus’ meddling in politics resulted in his crucifixion.

For me, one of the strongest statements in the song  “Walls that Divide Are Broken Down” is in the second verse.

When vested power stands firm entrenched
and breaks another’s back,
when waste and want live side by side,
it’s Gospel that we lack!

Injustice, homelessness, persons being displaced by war and economic disruptions and forced to become refugees, issues of starvation, polluted water sources  – these are not things to be sad about, nor matters inviting charity on the part of the wealthy and the powerful. They are judgements on individuals, societies, systems and ideologies. They are also calls to action, political and economic.   

Something that we tend not to realize is that people seldom consciously choose evil. We do choose that which may appear as wise or good within our usual pattern of thinking without seeing the harm our choices may visit upon others. Those who promoted residential schools for the aboriginal peoples of Canada thought they were doing that which was good – good for children whose traditional way of life was being made obsolete, good for a growing and changing nation. Many who taught and administered the schools believed they were answering a divine call. In the 1930s and throughout the years of World War II in many European countries in addition to Germany accepted the dogmas of Nazism and collaborated with, or pretended ignorance of, one of the world’s most horrendous examples of genocide. Ideologies of gender, racial and ethnic superiority find an easy foothold in many corners of the world, including our own countries, today. Some politicians have attempted to use this to their own or their party’s advantage. The diligent and critical examination of our biases and prejudices is an essential and constant element of our discipleship and our stewardship. The early call to repent, to change our hearts and minds, to alter direction, called us into faith and into a lifetime process of what Paul and other early teachers meant when they urged their followers to “discern the spirits”. 

The last verse of “Walls” echoes what I believe is a basic human cry for health, well-being, holy and holistic living.

“This broken world seeks lasting health
and vital unity.
God’s people, by God’s Word renewed,
cast off all slavery.”

One night at a workshop featuring a set of Farquharson/Klusmeier hymns where the gathered group had fervently sung “Walls”, one participant asked, “Would you settle an argument between my partner and me? Are you making a statement when you say ‘God’s people cast off all slavery,’ or are you issuing a call – that this is something we are supposed to do.”  “Both,” I replied.   On the one hand it is a statement of fact – casting off slavery has been one of the marks of faithfulness and discipleship – claiming the liberty that is already ours as the children of God and celebrating those who have been liberators of the oppressed, but it is also a call.  We are to learn to identify our slaveries – including our slavery to habit and what makes us comfortable – and to see the slaveries that oppress sisters and brothers, neighbours near and far. And we become engaged again as seekers of justice, well-being and peace for all.

The familiar Serenity Prayer may help us. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” As anyone who has lived a twelve step program will affirm, these are not three static categories.  Life is too fluid for that to be true.  Yesterday’s impossibility may become today’s or tomorrow’s possibility.

Audio Sample

key of Eb
One Verse & Refrain
played on piano by Ron Klusmeier

Scripture References

  • Mark 9:38-40
  • Luke 9:49-50
  • John 4:1-54
  • Acts 7
  • Acts 10:1-48
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-18
  • Galatians 3:26-29
  • Ephesians 2:8-22
  • Ephesians 2:13-22
  • Ephesians 4:31-5:2
  • James 2:1-9
  • Revelation 22:1-6

Season, Theme
or Subject

  • Assurance
  • Compassion
  • Easter
  • God∶ love of
  • Heal, Healing
  • Inclusiveness
  • Intergenerational
  • Justice, Human Rights
  • Lent
  • Liberation
  • Love∶ God's
  • Praise
  • Race, Racism
  • Renewal
  • Service, Serving
  • Unity
  • Walls
  • Witness
  • World

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