This post is featured in the CAPC Magazine, March 2017: ‘Befriending Others’ issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine. Subscribe to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine by becoming a member and receive a host of other benefits, too.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria, you’re going back.”

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

This could be one of the great Trojan horses.”

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Lock your doors, folks.”

About ten years ago, my parents (who live in Kenya) took in an infant from South Sudan, a refugee from an African nation rapidly descending into chaos. The desperate journey out of Sudan took the life of her mother and sibling, and she was flown out of the country on a small plane. Ten years later, she still lives with my parents and is considered an adopted sister to all of us.

This January, the U.S. President signed an executive order that would restrict the migration of refugees from seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Sudan (recently updated to exclude refugees from Iraq). These are primarily women and children fleeing war-ravaged homes in desperation most Americans simply cannot fathom.

The rising chorus of voices in opposition, particularly those of conservatives who typically back Republican policies, has been heartwarming.

Denying safe harbor to people fleeing war-ravaged countries is deeply shameful and wholly un-American.

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief says, “The decision to restrict entry of refugees and other immigrants. . . contradicts the American tradition of welcoming families who come to the United States to start their lives again in safety and dignity.” And continues, tying this fundamental American ideal to the fact that the vast majority of Americans are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Michael Wear, evangelical Christian and former faith advisor to President Obama, tweeted, “Trump’s immigration executive order is playing politics with people’s lives.”

Russell Moore, a prominent Southern Baptist quoted in the New York Times last fall, who has a particular ability to say what he really wants to say without actually saying it adds, “It’s not unusual that we have politicians timid in the face of fear, but the task of the church is a different one.”

Ed Stetzer, of Wheaton College, says, “If America bans refugees, it makes a statement to the world that we don’t want to make. It is the picture of someone who sits, arms crossed and turned away, with a raised eyebrow and a ready attack on the helpless, the homeless, the broken.” To our shame, we’ve made this statement before, with disastrous consequences.

Politically, I came of age in the mid-90s, and I have never forgotten the horror of Rwanda.

The President’s currently proposed temporary ban on refugees would last 120 days. If you feel that a delay is reasonable, consider this. In Rwanda, from April 6 to July 16, 1994:

  • 800,000 to 1 million Rwandan men, women, and children were slaughtered, with some estimates closer to 2 million
  • 250,000 to 500,000 Rwandan women were raped, 67% of whom were infected with HIV
  • 50,000 Rwandan women were left as widows
  • 75,000 Rwandan children were orphaned

The Rwandan genocide, and our inaction, is a stain on our history.

Are 100 percent of refugees peaceful people? Probably not, but the percentage who are is probably similar to the percentage of white people who aren’t Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, or Alexandre Bissonnette, the terrorist who shot and killed six worshipers at a mosque in Quebec City. And yet people who look like them walk freely down our streets every day.

The reality is that 78% of the Syrian refugees admitted to the United States are women and children, and there is less than a 1 in 3 billion chance that you will be killed by a refugee. If those odds don’t sound good to you, then you should probably stop doing pretty much everything you do on a daily basis.

I have never met my sister. Travel to Kenya is prohibitively expensive, even more so when multiplied by the five members of my own family. Cost and the occurrences of life have gotten in the way. My parents have also made a commitment to make sure that one of them is always with her. Which means I have not seen them, together, in years.

The particulars of my sister’s flight from Sudan have made it hard to get documentation for her to travel. The bureaucratic intricacies of the United States and Kenya colliding with the realities of South Sudan, which is, in truth, a country in name only. Still, slow, if frustrating, progress was being made toward legalizing her status as an adopted child, a critical first step necessary for her to travel outside of Kenya.

I have a lot of thoughts about the President’s plan to bar refugees from countries he considers a threat to our national security, but primarily I’ve been thinking about my sister. In my mind, my assumption was that in time, perhaps a long time, her status would be resolved and she would be able to travel to the United States. Now I’m not sure that will ever happen.

I recognize that my story, and that of my sister, pales in comparison to the current plight of millions of refugees. Whatever her status in the United States, she is currently safe in Kenya, and though it breaks my heart that she may never be able to travel to the United States, I am not equating her situation to people who are currently fighting for their lives. But ten years ago, she was a refugee, and the only reason she’s currently safe, or even alive, is because she had a mother with an indomitable will to protect her child; and a pilot, a family in Kenya, and a Kenyan government willing to accept her.

I’m tempted to wonder what the President would say to me if he heard the story of a sister I may never meet, and parents I may never again see at the same time. But the reality is I know what he would say. He would tell my family that we must “suffer the consequences.”

My response to the President is that we have a word for responding to events in fear instead of doing what is right: cowardice.

Denying safe harbor to people fleeing war-ravaged countries is deeply shameful and wholly un-American. History will judge the United States for this moment, and rightly so.


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3 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing, John. I think your assessment is spot-on in regards to how this political motion is a black eye for the country. I have been unable to be overly-sympathetic towards conservatives on any spectrum of this matter, as Trump’s pre-election rhetoric set a very clear tone of what his campaign was about. It should not come to any surprise that this was going to be a policy of the president. With that being said, I’m wrestling with the idea that our churches have contributed to this “black eye.” I’m struggling with this feeling that the people in my church (and in many of our churches) adhere to Trump’s rhetoric because they have bought into the politics of fear. Fear has trumped (pun not intended) the Gospel message of faith, hope and love, and the prevailing attitudes of many people, especially members of my evangelical tribe, is that Trump is God’s chosen appointment. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and other prominent church leaders have voiced that message loud and clear, and so many people have drunk the Kool-aid! I’m weary that the politics of the country have been given preference to the call to be a servant.

  2. “Denying safe harbor to people fleeing war-ravaged countries is deeply shameful and wholly un-American. History will judge the United States for this moment, and rightly so.” As much as I appreciate many points in this article, this last one is simply false. A nation is not a church, plain and simple. Immigration policies balance prudential judgements with moral concerns. Otherwise, they would simply all be abolished with the waive of a wand. Thoughtful solutions are needed. To suggest a temporary ban or reduction in pace of immigrants admitted is immoral is overreach. Violence is only one consideration among many other economic and political ones. And to suggest you “know” what the president might say is simply playing to political rhetoric.

    1. I have considered how I would respond to this article since its publication and I hope that the result of that consideration is that I come across at least a little more measured. I agree with you, Joe, that the article seems to incorrectly assume the argument against increased immigration is simplistically based on fear. While I appreciate Mr. Graeber’s charge and reminder against fellow Christians acting in fear (for I too have read 1 John chapter 4), I feel like this article is on one hand conflating America and the Church and on the other not providing many solutions.

      I would be most interested to see a follow-up post where we are offered suggestions for how the church can actively help refugees and set an example for the state instead of simply disagreeing with President Trump which is neither difficult nor groundbreaking. Pro-life advocates often get accused of only caring about a baby until its born but not afterward and, regardless of whether or not that accusation is incorrect, I’m afraid that articles like this which seem to advocate without a clear plan of action simply fall in line for the same accusation.

      Also, and related to your point, I don’t think we should necessarily feel bad about holding positions that are “wholly un-American.” After all, wholly American values currently look like the licensed and legal ability to terminate at least 900,000+ American lives every year through abortion. That, of course, is not the only example available but simply the first one that came to mind, related to my Pro-Life comment above. Everyday, we nationally practice the shirking of personal responsibility by offing the neediest and most defenseless among us, but we think that practice has prepared us for when the needy and defenseless from other countries show up on our doorstep?

      I would have also liked to see a little more Biblical reference supporting this article’s argument since the preeminence of Christ really is the only solution here. If we as a nation are not allowing ourselves to be gathered beneath the wings of Christ (Matt. 23:37), how capable are we of imitating Him by gathering those in need under our wings? I’m not saying that we should throw up our hands at ever hoping to address the immigration issue, but simply that the first sin of man was to aspire to what only God can do while denying Him at the same time, and we might do well to take note of that fact. But, then again, I am just some guy who occasionally posts articles about anime. You all can take what I say as you will.

      Again, I’m appreciative of the challenge that Mr. Graeber presents and am certainly a regional friend of his, being that I live about a half-hour from the great city of Chattanooga. I just think that this article could have used a little more constructiveness instead of participating in the negative cultural moment.

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