Several faith leaders said they understand the importance of national security, but the Trump Administration’s recent immigration ban flies in the face of a moral mandate to “love the stranger within your midst.”
“We are dismayed at this administration’s action as it pertains to these executive orders regarding refugee resettlement,” said Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City.
“We appreciate community concerns about security but do not believe these actions, as outlined by the president, were necessary to achieve the security they purport to address.”
Raglow said biblical Scripture calls Christians to reach out to the orphan, the widow and the immigrant — Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled Bethlehem for Egypt to avoid the persecution of Herod.
Oklahoma Muslims leaders have been vocal in their opposition of the ban of refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“This ‘Muslim ban’ is motivated by racism, bigotry and foolishness. What he’s done is unconstitutional and it goes against American values,” said Saad Mohammed, the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City’s director of Islamic information.
Other religious leaders also voiced concerns, although some said they are cautiously optimistic that the new administration will strike a balance between national security and offering refuge.
Some other religious and spiritual leaders shared similar sentiments.
“Our teachings of faith and practice come first from Scripture which call us to offer radical hospitality — to welcome and provide for the stranger in our midst, and to love our neighbor, stranger or enemy, as ourself,” said Pamela Holt, regional director of the Christian Church in Oklahoma (Disciples of Christ).
“While we are grateful for our national security which strives to keep our nation safe, and while we support their system that oversees and implements the vetting process, an executive order by the president of the United States that unnecessarily oppresses our brothers and sisters who are refugees or immigrants strikes at the very core of our faith teachings and practices as ambassadors of Christ.”
The Rev. Nathan Hedge, who leads a south Oklahoma City church that works closely with immigrants, said the immigrant community — those who are here legally as well as the undocumented — is in an uproar over the recent presidential order. Many of these individuals, Hedge said, see the action as a harbinger of things to come.
“I certainly pray for President Trump and I have a high respect for the office of president, but I believe the executive orders, from what I can see, have had some pretty dramatic consequences,” said Hedge, pastor of May Avenue Wesleyan Church which runs Immigrant Connection, a center offering services to immigrants.
Hedge referred to the immediate aftermath of the executive order when immigrants who had already been vetted were prohibited from entering the U.S.
Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security said it would allow nearly 900 refugees to enter the country after they were initially barred from the U.S. as a result of the executive order.
Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel, said she was pleased to hear that already-vetted immigrants in the pipeline will now be able to travel to America.
“I’m not a national security professional, however I have great faith in our national security advisers and the vetting process that has been continually reformed over the last 15 years,” she said.
Harris said it upset her when the order barring immigration from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan was put into effect on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She said it reminded her of how some Jews fleeing persecution in Europe were turned away from America and “millions of these people became victims of murder” at the hands of the Nazis.
“In Judaism, we teach that every life matters — whether it was 109 or a million and nine people who were on their way to this country and were detained — it doesn’t matter,” Harris said. “When we put an obstacle in front of people who have already gone through a stringent vetting process, I don’t understand how that brings us political gain because it undermines our moral authority.”
Meanwhile, several religious leaders said there is an approach to America’s immigration system that must balance both national security concerns and the country’s role as a compassionate neighbor.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, put this concept in writing at the group’s 2016 annual meeting.
” … We encourage Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at His throne; and be it further resolved that we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm,” the resolution stated.
Along those lines, the Rev. Joe Ligon, president of the Southern Baptist state affiliate organization, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, offered his view on the current situation.
“Oklahoma Baptists have consistently prayed for our national leaders to find wise, just and compassionate solutions to the issues surrounding immigration,” Ligon, pastor of First Baptist Church of Marlow, said in a prepared statement.
“We desire a balanced approach that leads toward security and justice, and we as individual Christians and churches will continue to look for ways to advance the Gospel and display kindness to all our neighbors.”
The Rev. Jimmy Nunn, bishop of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said he has much love for his country and wants to see the U.S. develop immigration measures that balance compassion with the need for stringent national security.
“I’m very grateful for the United States. We enjoy freedom here and we stand for liberty and justice so we advocate freedom and justice for all people. That’s kind of a basic stance,” he said.
“From a specific religious stance, Methodists join with other religions around the world in valuing our neighbor, welcoming the stranger and advocating for vulnerable people.”
Nunn said it’s important to distinguish between people who may break laws and people who are victims of injustices like war, persecution and crime.
“Our thoughts and prayers and support go to the innocent people who have been displaced. For me, that’s fundamental of being a Christian and fundamental of being an American as well,” Nunn said. “We just don’t turn our back on people in need.”
Need for dialogue, reform
The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, said there is an urgent need for immigration reform “but it needs to happen in a way that doesn’t elicit fear and scare tactics among people.”
Lindstrom said he is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and builds the economy but is done “in a way that respects the dignity and the humanity of every person.”
Raglow, leader of Catholic Charities and its refugee resettlement program, said he’s hopeful that a better discussion about immigration may take place in light of the issues that rose to the surface after Trump’s executive order.
“As with any (administrative) transition, sometimes you have to begin the dialogue anew to make sure all parties understand each other and all the work we do together,” he said.
“So we’re hopeful that this is not a harbinger of the future but an opportunity to renew the dialogue that’s so critically needed, so we can live the best values of our country.”