By Jesse Winter
On Tuesday, the Office of Public Witness attended a press conference where Senators Leahy, Durbin, and Kaine, and several faith leaders urged Congress to support resettlement of Syrian refugees. Even though 4.3 million Syrians seek refuge from the violence in Syria, policy riders on a budget bill threaten to bar even a small fraction of this vulnerable population from the United States.
Senator Leahy pointed out that welcoming refugees is a moral issue, one that transcends politics and directly deals with the human condition. Senator Kaine followed up by saying, “As the Book of Job tells us, challenges in life are a test of whether we will be true to our principles, or whether we’ll abandon them in the face of adversity. In the debate over refugees, we cannot abandon the core principles that we stand for as a nation. Refugees are not our enemies.”
Sponsored by Church World Service, the press conference is part of a larger advocacy effort by faith communities to welcome refugees. The Church of the Brethren is committed to being a welcoming voice of compassion in the refugee resettlement debate. In November, Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger signed a letter with other faith leaders that offered a prayer to policy makers: “As people of faith, our values call us to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and stand with the vulnerable, regardless of their religion. We pray that in your discernment, compassion for the plight of refugees will touch your hearts. We urge you to be bold in choosing moral, just policies that provide refuge for vulnerable individuals seeking protection.”
The panelists also expressed concern for the anti-Muslim rhetoric amid the refugee debate. Speaking on behalf of the Nation’s Mosque, Sultan Muhammed said, “Islam is a religion of peace. Sadly, due to the actions of a few, it has been associated in the media with the violence seen from extremist groups that have no foundation or place in Islam. We must welcome refugees as survivors of this violence and offer them the same safety and welcome that the United States has so proudly offered generations of immigrants and refugees before them.”
Noffsinger has released his own statement rejecting anti-Muslim rhetoric; see the story above or go to www.brethren.org/news/2015/general-secretary-speaks-out.html for the full text and a video of the statement.
In the midst of the Advent season, we are reminded of the hope and light that come with Jesus’ birth. This hope emboldens us as people of Christ to conquer the language of fear that darkens efforts to aid persons fleeing violence and injustice. May Christ’s light shine on policy makers debating these important issues.
-- Jesse Winter is a Brethren Volunteer Service worker and a peacebuilding and policy associate at the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.