Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Some of you may have seen this very disturbing statistic. In 1938, 68% of Americans were opposed to giving Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany a home in the United States.
It seems that history does repeat itself. Yesterday our Governor, joining with many of his Republican colleagues, declared that he would work to prevent not only Syrian refugees, but ALL refugees from coming to Arizona. Apart from the fact that no state governor has that kind of power under U.S. law, his decision makes no sense from a spiritual, moral, or ethical point of view.
We Christians cannot give into the kind of thirst for vengeance that seems to be sweeping through our country in response to the ISIS attacks in France, Egypt, and Lebanon this past week. We not only have a savior who taught us to “turn the other cheek,” but we have a long Biblical tradition of aiding the homeless and the refugees. Indeed, the way we treat the poor and oppressed is the very litmus test of our faith. Says Jesus, “Even as you have done it to the least of these, so you have done it to me.”
Such lack of mercy, furthermore, is hardly keeping with our understanding of ourselves as American people. Unless you are Native American, chances are your ancestors were refugees themselves. Whatever happened to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? For many Americans, frightened of those different from themselves, the answer would now seem to be, “Get lost!”
We forget two important realities. The few thousand Syrian refugees that have been granted asylum are themselves victims of ISIS. No terrorist would risk the kind of dangerous boat journey those refugees did, simply to infiltrate the western world. There are plenty of easier ways to do that. We should also remember that all refugee families coming to this country have been through an exhaustive vetting process. According to John McCullough, head of Church World Services, a non-denominational Christian group that sponsors refugees in this country:
“For these governors to falsely assert that the U.S. refugee admissions program places their states at risk is utterly preposterous. Refugees are the single most scrutinized and vetted individuals to travel to the United States, undergoing more than seven security checks by intelligence agencies, including biometric tests, medical screenings and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials. To blame Syrian refugees, who are themselves fleeing the horrors of ISIS, for the acts of their perpetrators, is just plain wrong.”
Finally, for us to turn away these refugee families, plays right into the hands of our enemies, proving that we are just as anti-Muslim as they assert, and that our claims to champion freedom and liberty are empty.
Do people of faith have an alternative to the kind of knee-jerk calls for revenge now sweeping the media? We do indeed.
David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, writes today about the work of the
British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks points out that our world is becoming more divided by religion, not less. Although religious motivations account for only about 10% of the approximately 1,800 wars fought in modern times, religions at their worst promote groupishness–in which one group believes that God is on their side and only their side. Only their group is good, and everyone else is evil and needs to be destroyed. This attitude is prevalent whenever radicalized religious groups are in charge. But says Brooks, “All three Abrahamic religions have sophisticated, multilayered, interpretive traditions that undercut fundamentalist readings.” All three proclaim love and justice.
“The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way…the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.” Sacks points out, “Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army–just a different example of how to believe, think, and live.”
I urge Arizona Episcopalians not to give way to their fears, but to take the highroad given to us by Abraham, Muhammad, and Jesus, not to turn our backs on those fleeing terror, but to welcome them with love and compassion. And most of all, not to forget that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were themselves refugees.
Bishop Kirk Smith
1. Student Opinions Surveys of American, Daily Northwestern
3. Adam Taylor, “The Islamic State wants you to hate refugees and its working,” Washington Post, November 16, 2015
4. Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015), discussed by David Brooks, New York Times, November 17, 2015, p. A3