I attended a Catholic mass on Sunday. The message there, and across the Catholic universe, came from the Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It seemed a divinely-ordained message in light of the wild ride that was our first week under a Donald Trump presidency. The intro to the Sermon on the Mount seemed particularly apt in the shadow of the President’s executive order pertaining to refugees.
The order implements a number of policies, including 1) halting the entry of all citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, 2) halting all refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days, 3) reducing the country’s refugee resettlement goal for 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000, and 4) banning the entry of Syrians indefinitely.
It is hard to see how such an order, which, ironically, calls for extreme vetting but itself was not vetted through the appropriate channels, aligns with the gospel.
At the end of the mass, the priest read from a statement offered by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to Trump’s order. It began, “We strongly disagree with the executive order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.”
Over the weekend and into Week 2 of the new administration, Christians around the country continue to take a gospel stand.
My own denomination, through the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church, released a letter from the office’s coordinator Peter Vander Muelen.
In the wake of the largest refugee crisis in modern history, we cannot refuse certain nationalities or religious groups, or reduce the numbers of people we welcome. These policies will be a devastating blow to the infrastructure of our crucial resettlement programs, and it’s also just morally wrong. I hope the faith community speaks — loudly — against these policies which so directly works against what has long been our calling.
A broad evangelical cohort wrote a unified response appealing to the Church’s role in welcoming and resettling refugees. “We are troubled by the recent executive order temporarily halting refugee resettlement and dramatically reducing the number of refugees who could be considered for resettlement to the U.S,” the letter read.
We fully affirm the important role of the U.S. government in vetting and screening those considered for resettlement to our country; indeed, it is a God-ordained responsibility of government. However, the U.S. refugee resettlement program’s screening process is already extremely thorough—more intensive, in fact, than the vetting that is required of any other category of visitor or immigrant to our nation—and it has a remarkably strong record. While we are always open to improvements to our government’s screening process, we believe that our nation can continue to be both compassionate and secure.
The letter was signed by presidents and CEOs of the Accord Network, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Korean Churches for Community Development, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Wesleyan Church, World Relief, and World Vision US.
Statements have come also from Orthodox corners of the Christian world. His Grace Bishop Angaelos, leader of the Coptic Church in the UK, rebuked Trump’s order. The Bishop’s letter is particularly striking because, as he notes, the Coptic Church, which is the primary church in Egypt and the largest church in the Middle East, has far too often been the victim of terror. “While our human brokenness has led to the conflict and vulnerability we see in the world,” he wrote,” we must not allow that same brokenness to lead us into dehumanising others, considering them less worthy of God-given rights and freedoms.”
Letters have sprung up all around. The Alliance of Baptists, Disciples of Christ, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), among many others, have all issued statements opposing the executive order and commending a continued national generosity toward refugees. Russell Moore, the ever-popular president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, offers a clarion call in support of the uprooted.
Many more statements have been put forth spanning a range of Christian denominations. Christian leaders have spoken out. Through the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, more than 2,000 faith leaders signed a document supporting refugee resettlement in the United States.
In a particularly poignant piece from the President and General Secretary of the National Councils of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Jim Winkler wrote:
By effectively preventing the entrance of refugees into this country, President Trump is establishing a policy would have kept Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from entering our nation. We ask President Trump to repent and show kindness to the stranger and the refugee that is central to Christian and American values.
As Christ-followers, we can of course care about our security and the security of our nation, but we cannot prioritize security at the expense of the gospel. Security, after all, is not a high Christian virtue.
In fact, we must resist anti-refugee and ethnically- or religiously-discriminatory policies whenever and wherever they arise. Let us love our neighbors–all of them–and welcome them. Let us pray for our leaders and our nation, that we would be wise and generous, and that we would have compassion for the foreigner and the alien.
Correction: It was initially indicated that the Presbyterian Church of America responded in opposition to President Trump’s executive order pertaining to refugees. The referenced response actually came from the Presbyterian Church (USA).