Don't Turn Refugees and Migrants Away!

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Dear President Trump and Members of Congress,

We the clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are called upon by our faith in Jesus Christ to speak out against the halting of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program and the criminalization of our migrant neighbors—whether they arrive seeking asylum or have been living in our communities for years.

This year of 2017 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the start of the Reformation. As Lutheran Christians we remember with gratitude Martin Luther’s teaching that Jesus Christ is both our gift and our example who shows us how to respond to our neighbors in need ("A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels," 1521).

Jesus Christ is our gift. In a world of violence and suffering, indifference and ignorance, Jesus graciously came to us. In the abject vulnerability of a child he was born far from home, because Caesar’s census made no concessions for pregnant women. He was nursed and cradled by his mother in a stable, because there was no room for him in the inn (Luke 2:1–7). Threatened by an insecure and suspicious Herod, he fled with his family to another land for safety (Matthew 2:13–18). Caught between mob violence and Pilate’s disregard of both truth and justice, he was tried and executed on the cross (John 18:33–19:22). Jesus Christ—our gift, savior, and Lord—was himself a refugee and a victim of the world’s powers.

Jesus Christ is our example. Against the world’s violence and suffering, indifference and ignorance, Jesus gave himself as a model for his disciples to follow. In his parables he illustrated the true nature of love. The Good Samaritan rescues the beaten Jew on the roadside, despite the fact that they come from rival religious communities, and in so doing illustrates the neighborliness commanded of us all (Luke 10:29–37). In the parable of the final judgment, the King blesses those who welcomed the stranger, for “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). In all of his teaching, Jesus interprets and explains the foundational ethical command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19 and 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).

As people of faith and leaders of faith communities, we are bound by Scripture and conscience, as was Martin Luther himself. And so we speak against the powers that would silence and suppress the love of neighbor that welcomes refugees and migrants.

We recall that many Lutherans came to this country in desperate need, as indentured servants or refugees from religious persecution and war. Lutherans have also given time and resources to succor refugees all around the world. We remember a time when some of our own number were regarded with suspicion, as for example when German-Americans were disliked and distrusted during the World Wars. And yet precisely out of our faith, our neighbor-ethic, and our ethnic diversity, we American Lutherans have sought to be faithful and helpful citizens in this nation that we love.

To halt temporarily the U.S. refugee program—a program that has the most rigorous screening process in the world and admits only 1% of applicants—and to weaken our asylum system is to turn away from the best of America’s political heritage and of the many faith communities within it. It is to refuse to be a neighbor to those who have been beaten down by the world’s powers. It is to cave into mob violence and fear, ignoring the words of angels and prophets: “Fear not!” (Genesis 21:17, Isaiah 41:10, Luke 2:10, Revelation 1:17).

We ask, therefore, as Christians and as Americans, that the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program remain open to people of all nationalities and religions who face persecution on account of the reasons enumerated under U.S. law. We oppose any policy change that shrinks the number of refugees we welcome or prevents refugees from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, or individuals who practice Islam and other faiths from accessing the U.S. refugee resettlement program. We refuse to see our migrant neighbors simply as security concerns; instead we recognize their God-given dignity. We are all children of God and called to be neighbors to one another.

It is when we turn to our neighbor in need with the neighbor-love Jesus embodied and taught that we will truly make America great again.



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