Updated. A number of Episcopal Bishops have responded to the governors who have closed the doors of their states to Syrian refugees. Here is a sample:
Bishop Doug Fisher of Western Massachusetts, Bishop Alan Gates and Bishop Gayle Harris of Massachusetts signed this letter to Governor Charlie Baker from the Massachusetts Council of Churches:
We speak with one voice, as Church leaders in Massachusetts. We believe in a Commonwealth where all people can live safely, especially those fleeing war and persecution. We pledge our voices and our churches’ active support to resettle Syrian refugees in Massachusetts.
We understand your priority is the safety of Massachusetts residents. Our safety is at greater risk if we let Daesh compromise our values by acting out of fear instead of compassion. We believe the act of shunning the Syrians would strengthen Daesh. Please reconsider your decision to stop welcoming Syrian parents and children into our state. These are innocent, suffering people. Refugees do not bring terror, they are fleeing from it.
As Christians we try to live our lives in accordance with Jesus’ Great Commandment – to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want safe homes, the freedom to worship, stable governments and opportunities to thrive. Our Syrian neighbors desire the same. Our faith also teaches us to welcome the stranger. Syrians seeking refuge, as well as the Somalians, Bhutanese, Iraqis, Central Americans and others, are neighbors worthy of our welcome and in need of our care. Our nation is founded on this welcome. We must make sure that we do not allow fear to overwhelm us, crowd out our compassion, or fundamentally change our character. We refuse to live as a Commonwealth scared of those unlike us.
Our hope for the people of Massachusetts is to love ALL neighbors, and welcome ALL strangers.
“Do not be afraid” is an ancient biblical command. “Do not be afraid” is a reminder that I cling to in this and every fearsome time. It is our human nature to respond to tragedies and uncontrollable changes with fear. In the immediate face of threat, fear can protect us. But in the long run, fear gets between us and our best selves, between us and God. We see that happening in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris a week ago as some political leaders propose legislation to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States. In this reality, God’s message to us is, “Do not be afraid.” Do not let fear prevent you from living out your baptismal vows to work for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.
What does this mean in practical terms? How do we obey God’s commandment to let go of fear when threats in our world are real?
We do it by turning to the practices of the Christian faith that have long sustained us.
We read the Bible, in which the message of how we are to treat refugees is clear. “The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt,” we read in Leviticus 19:34. Scripture also reminds us that Jesus himself was a refugee whose parents fled with him and found asylum in another country in order to save his life. Matthew 2:13-18 tells that piece of the story of Jesus’ birth, a piece that we usually skip at Christmas.
For some, the instinct is for revenge. To combat the force of evil that has been perpetrated against us with an even greater expression of might. For others, the response is of fear, causing us to tighten our own circles and close ourselves off from any potential danger. And, because this incident happened nearly 4,000 miles away from us, there is even the temptation to look away and not encounter this horrific story at all. For Christians, there is another way. As ones who believe in the Hope of the resurrection, in the power of God to overcome all evil and to succor those with the deepest of wounds, the Christian way for us is to pray. Pray for the dead that they may be welcomed into God’s eternal embrace. Pray for their families who are faced with sudden loss. Pray for survivors and the injured who are traumatized by this event. Pray for a country torn by violence, for a world shattered by the terrorism, and for those who have perpetrated this crime- may God’s justice and mercy prevail.
The Episcopal Church has been resettling refugees for over 75 years and we will be active in welcoming Syrian refugees to America. It is wrong to discriminate against those fleeing violence, oppression or certain death merely because of where they come from or because of their religion. In the Book of Leviticus, God says to the people of Israel that, “the foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” We are, therefore, called to welcome the stranger and aid our brothers and sisters in their time of need.
We’re all trying to find our way in times of uncertainty and fear. So we protect ourselves as best we can from those who wish to do us harm. We plan and practice what we would do in a crisis. If you haven’t done that preparedness work for awhile, now is a good time for a review.
It’s also important that we care for one another. In a letter to parents this week, Amy Vorenberg, Head of Beauvoir School, included resources for parents to use when talking to their children about what happened in Paris. You may find here reassurance for yourself as well as your children.
Showing up in church helps in scary times. Preachers rose to speak last Sunday having searched the Scriptures for words of consolation and perspective. Congregations offered prayers and treated those gathered with particular concern. The same will happen this Sunday. And the Sunday after that.
In times of uncertainty and fear, we need to remember who we are and where our strength lies.
When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus teaches us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves for on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. In other words, a brief summary of the central teaching of our faith is to love — both God and neighbor. When asked who is our neighbor, Jesus tells a story about a man who has been robbed and beaten and left for dead. Religious and righteous ones ignore him but a despised person who is perceived as “other” mercifully tends to his needs. Who is our neighbor? Jesus says it is the one who shows mercy.
In the wake of terrorist acts in Paris and Beirut, Governor Snyder said that Michigan will not accept any Syrian refugees. Not only is his attempt to block acceptance of refugees beyond the authority of his office, it is a fear-based reaction to a very complex set of political and humanitarian concerns. As Christians in the Episcopal tradition, our love of God compels us to love our neighbor and Jesus teaches us that acts of mercy demonstrate our own neighborliness.
Refugees from places like Syria seek to escape the precise same ideological and religious extremism that gave birth to the attacks in Paris. They seek entry into our communities because their lives are imprisoned by daily fear for their existence. Just as Jesus bids us not to be afraid, we must, in turn, pass those words of comfort to those who turn to us for help.
But Jesus calls us to go even further: not just to love our neighbors and our kin, but to love our enemies. This is particularly difficult when we are afraid. But even in the midst of our fear we stand on the solid ground of our faith and proclaim the faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead. In practical terms, this may mean finding strength in prayer, or in our neighbors, or in our churches, or in acts of solidarity with others who live in fear. This is the hope that casts out fear.
The fear is real. So we pray. We go to church. We remember who we are in Jesus. Our resurrection hope is larger than fear. Let nothing keep us from that hope, that faith, that security in Gods dream for all of humanity.
Last weekend, following the Paris tragedy, there was violence enacted on the house of worship of our Muslim neighbors when the Baitul Aman mosque on Main Street in South Meriden was fired upon. We are thankful that no one was hurt or injured. As religious leaders we vigorously denounce such violence. The bishops and staff of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut have reached out to the leaders of the Baitul Aman mosque relaying to them our dismay, sadness, and anger; and more importantly assuring them of our prayers and desire to stand with them. The leaders of the mosque are most grateful for our solidarity and will welcome any from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut who would like to join them for prayer today (Friday, November 20 at 1:30 PM) and the Open House tomorrow (Saturday, November 21 at 2:00 PM) at the Baitul Aman Mosque, 410 Main St., Meriden CT.Finally, as bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut we respect the stance that Governor Malloy has taken in extending a hospitable hand to those in need, and in welcoming Syrian refugees to Connecticut. Recalling the resolution just passed last weekend at our 231st Annual Convention, we encourage Episcopalians in Connecticut to partner with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services: IRIS in New Haven (http://www.irisct.org) and similar agencies in our state, to provide shelter and safety to those who flee their homelands because of violence and terror. God bless you as we seek to welcome the stranger in our midst.
“Be Not Afraid”
In times of stress and uncertainty, it is a natural reaction to become anxious. However, as the people of God we are called to act in love in spite of our fears. Decisions to stop all Syrian refugees from crossing national and state borders is one such fear-based overreaction. In the words of the 18th Century hymnist, William Williams, “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side…” We are those who are called to walk the edge of Jordan, the place where Jesus himself was immersed in the waters of God’s freeing and healing love. Can we do anything less for those who are left to wander in a barren wilderness without the offer of the healing waters of life?
November 18, 2015
The Right Reverend Don E. Johnson
Bishop of West Tennessee
Scott Mayer, provisional bishop of Fort Worth and diocesan bishop of Northwest Texas, issued a powerful statement on November 18.
He also was quoted today in a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith, diocesan bishop of Arizona, issued a statement on November 17, which has gone viral on social media.
A portion of it was used as a quote in a story in the Arizona Republic the next day.
Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas has signed a joint letter with other faith leaders.
It is morally irresponsible for political leaders to lead with fear and misinformation. Governing is about making considered choices in speech and action for all of a nation’s citizens. Recent statements by political leaders are disappointing and appeal more to our base selves than to our more worthy selves. We expect our leaders to shepherd us on a higher plane.
We live in dangerous times. There are evil powers in this world which corrupt and destroy. And so, there is no absolutely safe way to love with the mercy of Jesus. But our neighbors, Christian and Muslim, from Syria and beyond have been robbed and left alongside the road by the very evil powers we must resist. Part of that resistance is to welcome some of the victims seeking refuge from that evil. It is my hope that the people of Wisconsin and the Diocese of Fond du Lac will do so. We must do so wisely and with care. And we should do so trusting that God honors such love and mercy. Especially in dangerous times.
Image: Flight into Egypt (1951), Sidney Nolan