Dear Members of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania,
I have received a number of phone calls, text messages and emails in the past several days inviting my comment on last Friday’s Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” On the same day that Order was issued, I gathered with 25 other Episcopalians at the Islamic Society of Harrisburg in Steelton for Jumma (Friday prayers) as a show of support for our Muslim brothers and sisters (this visit had been arranged some weeks earlier as an effort to support the worshipping community in Steelton who had received anonymous threats in the days following November’s election). That same morning, I posted an entry on my blog “Compass Points” explaining my call as a Christian to care for our neighbors and, as a leader, to call out against injustice when I see it (to read the full blog entry go to www.compasspointsmappingtheway.blogspot.com.
As an individual, my soul aches for those who struggled in confusion and chaos to make their way to their destinations in the wake of new sanctions against international travel.
- Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an interpreter who served for more than a decade to improve relations between our government and Iran was detained at JFK Airport for 19 hours before gaining entry to the USA (thanks to the work of the ACLU).
- Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, a promising young Iranian scientist, who was denied passage to Boston where he had been awarded a fellowship to study cardiovascular medicine at Harvard.
- Two brothers, their wives and children who left war-torn Syria with 16 suitcases, crossing the border into Lebanon: they flew from Beirut to Doha, Qatar, and then to Philadelphia on Saturday. This was a journey 15 years in the making with the goal of being reunited with family here in the United States. They were told upon arrival in Philadelphia to get on a flight back to Doha.
While I appreciate the efforts to secure our nation against the threat of terrorism, there has to be a better way. The Executive Order, which calls for a 90-day ban on entry for all nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and a 120 day suspension of all refugees entering our country, without weighing individualized merit or threat, is unwieldy and puts at further risk those who are already among our world’s most vulnerable. In moving to increase our safety, we are endangering the lives of innocent refugees who want nothing more than to live without fear of losing their lives. When we send these families “back,” what are we sending them back to? In December, the U.N. Humanitarian Chief said conditions in the Syrian city of Aleppo had gone "from terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable." Or are the spurned refugees returning to one of the refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, or Greece whose conditions have been described by the US based Human Rights Watch Group as “deplorable and volatile”? This does not feel to me like loving our neighbor as ourselves. Securing our safety must come in a way that does not treat other human beings as objects that we can discard. As Episcopalians, we have vowed to “respect the dignity of every human being.” We need to find a better way.
As the leader of our Church in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, I am inviting you to prayer and discernment. Pray for those who live on the edges and for those who have only a shred of hope. I ask you to pray, too, for our elected leaders and their wise discernment. Pray that we can find ways to live more fully into the words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free /The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. /Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”1883)
I also invite and encourage your active participation in ways that you feel are most appropriate. In our diocese, we have a network of individuals who have participated in two diocesan-wide efforts to collect goods to support newly re-settled refugees. We are looking to build that group’s membership base and formalize new leadership as we work in partnership with Catholic Charities and the International Service Center. Please contact my office for more information by emailing my assistant, Carolyn Patterson at email@example.com. I hope that we can care for those who have already made it to our shores and, through our acts of loving kindness, display Christian caring and charity to those in need.
As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” May we be so moved.
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