Since the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, governors of more than half of the US’s 50 states have said they will not welcome Syrian refugees—defying President Barack Obama’s September announcement that the US would take 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. While many are calling their remarks Islamophobic and politically motivated, Christian church groups have been particularly outspoken about the governors’ lack of compassion.
A number of these church groups and church-affiliated missions have a long tradition of working with the federal government to place refugees in local communities; some have been resettling refugees in the US since World War II.
The governors’ statements don’t necessarily carry legal weight—the Federal government has the power to decide where refugees resettle in the US—but their remarks still seem to be having an impact. Twenty Syrian refugees were supposed to arrive in the “Quad cities,” four adjoining counties in Iowa and Illinois, via World Relief, a non-profit started by a national coalition of evangelical churches during WWII. But after Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said they would block any efforts to resettle Syrians in their states, those plans are on hold, World Relief said.
This isn’t exactly Christian, said World Relief. “Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors,” Amy Rowell, director of the Moline, Illinois office told local news. “The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind, making it absolutely clear that our neighbors cannot be limited to those of our same ethnicity or religious traditions.”
Stephan Bauman, the company’s chief executive, asked for compassion from fellow Christians on Monday (Nov. 16), saying, “Instead of allowing ourselves to be consumed by fear, we must ground ourselves in love and open our arms to these refugees.”
On Nov. 16, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, where two families from the Middle East have recently been resettled, explained the church’s activities in a statement:
Today, we face new challenges as we answer the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable. Thousands of families—women, men and children—are fleeing violence in the Middle East. Catholic Charities is a grantee agency that receives refugees from many parts of the world, including the Middle East.
The New Orleans church also quoted Pope Francis’s speech to the US Congress this September in which he told US politicians to guard against the temptation of a “simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil…To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. “
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Monday (Nov. 16) that the Church is “always open to families coming to the United States who need help,” vowing to continue that work. The Kentucky Refugee Ministries, associated with the Episcopal church, screened Ellis, a “documentary chronicling the refugee and immigrant journey through the eyes of those who arrived at Ellis Island.” The event was hosted by a Muslim immigrant from Iraq who the ministry had settled in the state.
The US vetting process for refugees takes about 18 months, and involves extensive screening through the US State Department and other agencies, religious groups have stressed. More than 800,000 refugees from all over the world have been resettled in the US without incident since 9/11.
The political outcry against refugees in the US is in marked contrast to western Scotland, which is expected to welcome over 1,000 refugees beginning this week. The 6,300 population island of Bute is expecting 15 families, the Guardian reported earlier this week, and has planned a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life as a fundraiser for them. The 1946 Frank Capra movie is about a small town banker who realizes the positive impact his small deeds of kindness have had on others’ lives.