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Churches wade in on US immigration row

Posted on: January 31, 2017 3:42 PM
Protest in Philadelphia
Photo Credit: Joe Piette
Related Categories: Americas, refugees & migrants

[ACNS] Bishop William Franklin of Western New York has called on people to join in opposition to the executive order issued by US President Trump on Friday limiting the ability of immigrants and refugees to travel to the United States. President Trump’s executive order suspends the entire US refugee admissions program for 120 days, indefinitely bans Syrian refugees, and suspends entry to the US by all nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Bishop Franklin said that there were no people who went to the United States who  were more thoroughly vetted than refugees – and that America was founded to be a place of refuge for all: “that is what makes us a light to the world,” he said. “Turning away refugees who have already been screened and have spent years proving themselves to a variety of government agencies is a betrayal of the founding principles of the United States of America. The draconian limits to the number of refugees in President Trump’s executive order is a betrayal of the spirit of America and the vision of our founders.”

The bishop recalled growing up in the segregated south of the US and seeing the “horrible” impact of laws and practices based on fear and discrimination: “It is not only those who are discriminated against who suffer,” he said. “The whole society is warped and lives of everyone in the society are limited and maimed when we act out of fear, especially when we act out of fear of those who are different from us.”

Bishop Franklin said taking action was part of the Episcopalian vow to strive for justice and peace: “I call on the Diocese of Western New York to join with me in standing against President Trump’s executive order, both as it applies to limiting immigrants from seven nations and as it applies to stopping all refugees for 120 days and limiting the total number of refugees.”

The Bishop of Egypt, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, said that he was saddened to hear about President Trump’s executive order and said that “it will not contribute to the security of the United States in any way.”

In a statement, Archbishop Mouneer said: “I appreciate the right of the government to protect the nation from terrorism, but this will not happen by preventing Muslims from coming to the country. The Oklahoma City bombing, we recall, was conducted by an American, not a Muslim.

“President Trump’s policy is a naïve solution based on generalisation and discrimination. The risk of terrorism should be dealt with by the security agencies on an individual basis and in cooperation with other nations. This decision will result in innocent people being barred entry, and refugees will suffer greatly.

“Under so much pressure in their home countries, refugees need a refuge. Much poorer nations like Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt have been accommodating the thousands that the United States is turning away.”

The Archbishop continued: “This decision is contrary to the teachings of the Bible, which requires us to welcome the stranger and treat him well. Jesus Christ, we must remember, was once a refugee in Egypt.

“But President Trump’s decision to prioritise Christian refugee applications will not help. Deep in my heart I do not want to see Christians leaving the place where Jesus was born, lived, and was crucified.

“The Middle East will not be the Middle East without Middle Eastern Christians. It will change, and in more than just demographics. The beautiful mosaic will suffer, as will the church’s witness to Christ’s love among all the peoples of the region.” 

Bishop Angaelos, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, and a member of the Anglican Oriental Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC), said: “In seeking to protect individuals or a particular sector of a community, it is imperative that we do not alienate others, especially when it means denying the basic human rights and freedoms of those most vulnerable. 

“As Christians following biblical teachings and traditions existing for millennia, we believe that God instructs us to provide refuge and hospitality to all humanity indiscriminately. He does not stop there in His instruction, but goes further to urge us to love all, even those who consider us their enemies.”

Bishop Angaelos continued: “As a Church that frequently finds itself at the receiving end of lethal terrorist attacks, we understand far too well the need to protect communities and individuals. At the same time however, we must not do so in a way that compromises our integrity or goes against the humaneness with which we must address the vast majority of those who do not directly or indirectly advocate for, aspire to, or inflict harm on others.” 

A coalition of Christian organisations has also issued a statement expressing concern about the clamp-down. They have called on the US to uphold its long tradition of welcoming refugees and offering them international protection. In a joint statement, the World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance, and the Lutheran World Federation said that faith called all Christians to love and welcome the stranger, the refugee, the internally displaced person – “the other.”

“These measures have been introduced in the name of protecting the nation from terrorists entering the US,” they said. “However, we support the view that in practice this order serves to further harm those who are the very victims of terrorism, genocide, religious and gender-based persecution, and civil war.

“We affirm and insist that, as prescribed under international humanitarian and human rights law, all those in confirmed need of refuge and international protection have a right to receive it, regardless of their religious or ethnic identity. . . The world is currently experiencing the largest forced displacement crisis since World War II, and 86 per cent of the world’s refugees are being hosted in developing countries.

“For the USA to more than halve its annual intake of refugees would not only severely affect people in urgent need of refuge, but also encourage other developed countries to participate in a further erosion of international protection for refugees.”

And, in an outspoken personal comment, the retired Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, George Browning, also criticised the executive order – and he accused the Australian church of deafening silence on the issue: “The Christian community in Australia needs to be reminded that silence is acquiescence,” he said. “Trump is taking the world down a very dangerous path, a path that is the very antithesis of the Christian path, of the Christian heritage about which America boasts.”