Written by Connie Larkman
Clergy and conference ministers across the wider church are speaking out on behalf of a beleaguered people, responding to the posturing of more than 30 governors who are against resettling Syrian refugees in their states. They are writing letters, pushing phone calls, participating in prayer vigils, organizing press conferences, and appearing on television to proclaim the extravagant welcome of the United Church of Christ.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s words that admitting Syrian refugees is “an unacceptable risk” touched a nerve with Edith A. Guffey, conference minister of the United Church of Christ in Kansas and Oklahoma. In a letter to a local newspaper Guffey wrote that Brownback's executive order prohibiting state agencies from assisting in their relocation is feeding fear and xenophobia.
"As a person of faith, I am outraged. I refuse to be silent and complicit in turning our backs on the least of these," the letter reads. "I invite others to join me in letting the governor know this is not who we are as Christians or as people who care for all humanity. Contact the governor and refuse to be silent." Her letter links to the state's website with Brownback's contact information.
"Do I think that letters and calls to the governors in Kansas and Oklahoma will actually change their minds on this question? Their track record indicates that’s not likely, but neither am I willing to do and say nothing," said Guffey. "We must speak out and up when actions are so inconsistent with our faith and values. It is crucial that that voices of faith and those who believe in the common humanity and dignity of all be heard as loudly as voices of fear."
When Maryland's governor, Larry Hogan, joined fellow Republicans in opposing refugees from Syria, a Central Atlantic Conference team endorsed a petition drafted by the Rev. Ryan Sirmons, pastor of Annapolis UCC.
"In our judgment, the character and attitude of Governor Hogan's request is not consistent with who we as Christians are called to be and how we are called to love all of God’s children, including and especially those who are marginalized and dispossessed," wrote the Rev. John Deckenback, Central Atlantic conference minister, on behalf of his team. "The CAC Ministry Team is currently considering other ways to respond to the dereliction of common humanity and decency that some of our political leaders in this state and in the larger region have recently exhibited in their response to the terrorist attacks in Paris."
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., spoke up for resettling Syrian refugees in America in a television appearance on WJLA in our nation’s capital. In a debate on this issue, Hagler strongly spoke out against what he called political grandstanding by lawmakers.
“All the stuff around governors and people saying we’re not accepting refugees -- that's political grandstanding. They don’t have the power to reject anybody from coming in to their states. That’s political grandstanding. It plays to the worst common denominator. We’ve got to deal with the problems of the world before us right now," Hagler said, indicating that many faith organizations are "in favor of standing behind the president. Those who are fleeing have the means to flee. There are still people caught up in the mess, death, destruction taking place in Syria. We respond to what we see as a moral call, to open our arms to the stranger, those who are in distress.”
In New Mexico, First Congregational United Church of Christ in Albuquerque hosted more than 30 area churches, worship centers, and nonprofits at a press conference where religious leaders representing Christians, Muslims, and Jews all agreed they would welcome Syrian refugees with open arms. The group said refugees and other immigrants are being demonized, and it needs to stop. The Rev. Mary Browne, a member of First Congregational, organized the gathering.
"I chair the board of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice," said Browne. "We must speak out for Syrian refugees who are fleeing the terrorists, as they have no voice. As Christians, we have no choice but to obey Jesus' call to care for 'the least of these,' our brothers and sisters."
Faith leaders in Georgia speaking out against Gov. Nathan Deal's refusal to admit Syrian refugees into the state delivered a letter to his office on Thursday, Nov. 19, and prayed on his doorstep. “It causes me great sadness and concern that our governor has chosen to participate in this ongoing politicized debate concerning our Syrian brothers and sisters -- the orphans, the widows, the weak, the wounded,” the Rev. Jodi Yarini, pastor of the Decatur United Church of Christ, told the local newspaper.
Deal’s office said the letter was one among 2,679 letters and 1,675 calls the office has received on the issue, and are in the midst of processing them. Deal has stood by his executive order, and said the state "will take every measure available" to ensure Georgians are safe.
The Massachusetts Council of Churches also sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, signed by representatives of a number of Christian denominations, pledging their "voices and our churches' active support to resettle Syrian refugees in Massachusetts."
The letter was in response to Baker's announcement that he joins his colleagues opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees pending further security information on how they are vetted in the aftermath of the Paris Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. It asks Baker to reconsider, and says it is important "we do not allow fear to overwhelm us."
The Rev. Jim Antal, minister and president of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, and the Rev. Laura Everett, UCC minister and executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, signed that letter.
"Every major religious institution in Massachusetts is in agreement: we have a moral responsibility to receive Syrian refugees. Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim, we all affirm that we will not live in fear of our neighbors," said Everett. "I am heartened how the Church and indeed the wider interfaith community has come together to speak with one voice. Our witness to peace and courage is stronger together."