After the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris a few weeks ago, there has been a backlash in this country against accepting Syrian refugees into this country. After Obama announced that the country will accept 10,000 refugees who are escaping wartime violence, 31 state governors have stated that they would oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. The Republican Presidential nominees have made various statements against accepting any Syrian refugees, and the House of Representatives recently voted to pass a bill that would suspend a program that allowed Syrian and Iraqi refugees until key national security agencies certify that they don’t pose a security risk. President Obama and the Democrats are against this plan, as the United States already has a rigorous vetting process for refugees that could take as long as 3 years and includes screening by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department. One of the groups that has fought most vigorously for Syrian refugees to seek safe haven within the United States are Christian churches.
In an article titled U.S. Religious Leaders Make Forceful Appeal to Accept Refugees, Rachel Zoll wrote:
Top organizations representing evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and liberal Protestants say close vetting of asylum seekers is a critical part of forming policy on refugees. But these religious leaders say such concerns, heightened after the Paris attacks a week ago, do not warrant blocking those fleeing violence in the Middle East.
“The problem is not the Syrian refugees,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who noted how his state has welcomed a large number of Cuban refugees over the years. “This is falling into the trap of what the terrorists wanted us to become. We shouldn’t allow them to change who we are as a people.”
About 70 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. are resettled by faith groups, according to the U.S. State Department office for refugees. The bulk of the work is done by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Church World Service, representing Protestant and Orthodox groups, are each responsible for about 10 percent. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Episcopal Migrant Ministries also handle several thousand cases
The National Association of Evangelicals released this statement favoring the acceptance of Syrian refugees:
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) calls for the United States to continue distinguishing between terrorists and the victims of terrorism when deciding refugee policy.
“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president.
“We are horrified and heartbroken by the terrorist atrocities in Paris, but must not forget that there are thousands more victims of these same terrorists who are fleeing Syria with their families and desperately need someplace to go,” he said.
The United States has a strong track record for screening refugee applicants, having processed more than three million refugees over the past four decades. It is more thorough and careful than the screening for tourist and student visas to the United States. A tourist with a French passport does not need screening or a visa; a refugee from Syria must pass multiple careful tests for eligibility.
As evangelicals we care about those in need one-person-at-a-time and urge our government to carefully screen individual refugees but not exclude a class of refugees from one or two countries where they have suffered.
Anderson said, “Our system is designed to keep terrorists out and to help desperate families with little children. We want to help the victims of terrorism in the Middle East, not punish them.”
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued a statement on Syrian refugees during the Bishops’ annual General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 17. An excerpt stated:
I am disturbed, however, by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.
Moreover, refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States—more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need.
Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive. As a great nation, the United States must show leadership during this crisis and bring nations together to protect those in danger and bring an end to the conflicts in the Middle East.
United Methodist Churches in Nebraska and Kansas have offered to shelter Syrians. In a statement:
Bishop Jones called on elected leaders who affiliate with the Christian faith to re-think their opposition to helping Syrian refugees relocate to the United States while noting that the United States and other nations are under attack by a radical movement within the Muslim community.
“This is a cultural war, and the French are our allies,” Jones said. “But the vast majority of Muslims in the world area also our allies, and we need to stand by them against the jihadist movement called dayesh and Al-Qaeda. In that war, one of the strongest things we can do is to show that America is a country which welcomes refugees who flee the evil and terror of jihadists in their countries and where freedom of religion is respected.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry made this statement:
Refugees from places like Syria seek to escape the precise same ideological and religious extremism that gave birth to the attacks in Paris. They seek entry into our communities because their lives are imprisoned by daily fear for their existence. Just as Jesus bids us not to be afraid, we must, in turn, pass those words of comfort to those who turn to us for help.
But Jesus calls us to go even further: not just to love our neighbors and our kin, but to love our enemies. This is particularly difficult when we are afraid. But even in the midst of our fear we stand on the solid ground of our faith and proclaim the faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead. In practical terms, this may mean finding strength in prayer, or in our neighbors, or in our churches, or in acts of solidarity with others who live in fear. This is the hope that casts out fear.
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service released this statement:
Every day, average Syrian people, including Christians persecuted for their faith, are being tortured and murdered, bombed and traumatized. An open field, a perilous journey, separation from family, a rickety boat, a refugee camp – are their only hope for safety. And for the most vulnerable, a relatively small number, who have no chance of ever being able to go home in safety – starting life anew in a strange land is the only possibility other than death.
The protection that the United States offers to a very small percentage of the world’s refugees must not be foreclosed for Syrians who themselves are fleeing the terror of ISIS. The US refugee program has, since 9/11, built up rigorous and multilayered security screenings to ensure that those we admit as refugees do not mean us harm. To close the door on resettling Syrian refugees would be nothing less than signing a death warrant for tens of thousands of families fleeing for their very lives.
As Christians, as Americans, and as global citizens – we must choose to stand for hope and life. We must not bow to the fear that ISIS spreads, to the seeds of doubt they cast over the land, or to the test they present to our most cherished values.
U.S. bishops ask politicians to tone down the rhetoric on accepting Syrian refugees and to work together to come up a measured approach that is safe and compassionate
The Lutheran Social Services of Michigan are working to shelter Syrian refugees in the region
The United Methodist Church of Kansas are calling for more empathy towards Syrian refugees and vow to help refugees resettle in the state.