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Campaign urges Episcopalians to protest at Trump order

03 February 2017


Up in arms: people protest against the travel ban imposed by President Trump, at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, on Sunday

Up in arms: people protest against the travel ban imposed by President Trump, at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, on Sunday

EPISCOPALIANS in the United States are being urged to pick up the phone to lobby their government to reverse an executive order on immigration which includes a temporary ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The 2x4 Fight for Refugees Campaign, launched by the Episcopal Public Policy Network this week, asks people to phone their national, state, and local elected officials at least four times over the next two months, “to let them know you welcome refugees”.

Dozens of Episcopalian bishops have condemned the order “Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States”, issued by President Trump last Friday. It includes a ban, in place for at least 90 days, on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It also suspends the Refugees Admission Programme for 120 days, while a review of screening procedures is conducted. Once resumed, the number of admissions will not exceed 50,000 in 2017 (down from 110,000).

Expressions of support for refugees were voiced by bishops from coast to coast. On Monday, supporters of Kentucky Refugee Ministries went to the airport at Lousiville, where a refugee from Somalia was due to arrive, with banners highlighting the case.

The Bishop of Ohio, the Rt Revd Mark Hollingsworth, wrote online that he was aware of a “broad range of opinion on the legal, moral, and political justification for this action”, within the diocese. “The security and freedom of our citizens and others deserve serious and thoughtful attention and debate. . .

“That there is such passionate and diverse response to how that security and freedom are protected is unsurprising.” The order was, however, “morally unjust”, and would put the country at “greatly increased risk”.

“Judging an entire culture or a religion or a nation by the actions of extremists within it does not make us a strong leader in the world,” the director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), Canon E. Mark Stevenson, said. “It stains our soul with a self-righteousness that grieves the heart of God.”

A survey last week by a polling company, Rasmussen Reports, found that 56 per cent of voters supported the temporary ban.

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW,” President Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world — a horrible mess!” He later tweeted: “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!”

In an interview on Friday with the Christian news site CBN, he suggested that persecuted Christians would be given priority in the refugee programme, arguing that it had been “impossible, at least very tough”, for Christians from Syria to enter the country.

The order directs the Secretary of State “to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.

“President Trump rightly recognises the incredible rise in persecution of Christians,” the CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, Lisa Pearce, said. “Expediting refugee entry for those intentionally targeted by ISIS, like the Yazidis and Christians and some Muslim groups, seems appropriate. However, prioritising one religion over another only exacerbates the already severe worldwide trend of religious persecution. We encourage a need-based approach that treats all faiths equally, and works toward the comprehensive strengthening of religious freedom around the world.”

On Tuesday, it was reported that a Christian family from Syria, sponsored by Rutgers Presbyterian church, had been told that they could not fly to the US from Turkey as planned.

The CATO Institute reports that no one from the seven designated countries killed any Americans in terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and the end of 2015. Seventeen people had been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on US soil.

Some Christians have defended President Trump’s actions.

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come,” the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham, told Huffington Post. “We want to love people . . . but we have a country, and a country should have order, and there are laws that relate to immigration, and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

The order, which resulted in the detention of some passengers in transit, has met with protests and legal challenges. In the UK, thousands demonstrated outside Downing Street on Monday. Among the C of E bishops criticising the order was the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, who said that it was “an unseemly way for the leader of the free world to conduct his nation’s business”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Thursday that, were he to have the opportunity to engage and debate with President Trump, "I would consider it a great privilege to try and persuade him to change his views."

Asked about the contents of the executive order, the Archbishop replied: "Policies that are based in fear rather than confidence and courage and Christian values of hospitality, of love, of grace, of embrace rather than exclusion, are policies that will lead to terrible results. 

"We have to say that when you start dissing whole communities, when you start excluding them, when you start mixing up those − I mean every county is entitled to protect its security — but when you mix up genuine threats to security with a dismissal of a whole range of communities out of fear, that's not good. 

"The USA is such a fantastic country. It has so much to be confident and positive about. . . America is built on immigration, on welcome, on courage, on a sense of grace that has inspired the world. They don't need to act out of fear."

During a long debate in the House of Commons on Monday, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said that the ban was “not an approach that this Government would take”. But he emphasised the “vital importance” of the alliance with the US, and rejected comparisons between President Trump and Hitler and Mussolini as “distasteful”.

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, is among the 1.6 million people who have signed an online petition stating that, while President Trump should be allowed to enter the UK, he should not be invited to make an official State Visit, “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen”.

Paul Valley

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