Subject: NCC Weekly News: Christian Unity and Immigration

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From Jim: Unity in Common Purpose
We’ve just completed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. All over the world, Christians studied scripture, preached sermons, and met to further the cause of unity. In addition to prayer, worship, and study, Christians in the United States have found unity in their opposition to the Trump administration’s crackdown on refugees and Muslims. 

3,500 religious leaders, including myself, from a variety of backgrounds, wrote to the president and Congress to say we are called by our sacred texts and faith traditions to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner. War, conflict, and persecution have forced people to leave their homes, creating more refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people than at any other time in history. More than 65 million people are currently displaced – the largest number in recorded history.

This nation has an urgent moral responsibility to receive refugees and asylum seekers who are in dire need of safety. Today, with more than five million Syrian refugees fleeing violence and persecution, and hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, the United States has an ethical obligation as a world leader to reduce this suffering and generously welcome Syrian refugees into our country. We call on the Trump Administration and all members of the U.S. Congress to demonstrate moral leadership and affirm their support for the resettlement of refugees, from all over the world, to the United States. This nation has a rich history as a leader in refugee resettlement, with significant precedent, including after World War II and after the fall of Saigon, when we resettled hundreds of thousands of refugees.

It is important to recognize that the United States has the most rigorous refugee screening process in the world, involving the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Counter Terrorism Center. The process includes biometric checks, medical screenings, forensic testing of documents, DNA testing for family reunification cases, and in-person interviews with highly trained homeland security officials.

Together, representing our various faiths, we decry derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors. Inflammatory rhetoric has no place in our response to this humanitarian crisis. We ask our elected officials and candidates for office to recognize that new Americans of all faiths and backgrounds contribute to our economy, our community, and our congregations. Refugees are an asset to this country. They are powerful ambassadors of the American Dream and our nation’s founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom, and liberty and justice for all.

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.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Evangelicals urged President Trump to continue the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which in partnership with churches and volunteers has saved lives and restored the futures of more than 3 million refugees since 1980. Many of these refugees have rebuilt their lives with courage and distinction.

Sister Donna Markham OP, Ph.D., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) expressed profound concern about President Trump’s immigration-related executive actions and the potential impact these actions will have on those who are most vulnerable.

In response to the decision to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border, Bishop Joe Vasquez, Chair of the Committee on Migration and Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, stated:

“I am disheartened that the President has prioritized building a wall on our border with Mexico. This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way. Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border. Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will “look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.’”

I am heartened that people of different faiths and Christians who don’t always see eye to eye have found unity in this moment of crisis. May our unity in the faith grow and may our unity in the search for justice continue.

Yours in Christ,
Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Targeting Refugees is a “Fool’s Errand”

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord… when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

-(Matthew 25:37-40 excerpts, NRSV)

As the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis in history, with over 65 million people displaced from their homes because of conflict, President Donald Trump has chosen to take draconian measures to close our borders not only to refugees but also legal residents of the United States through an ill-conceived executive order. We stand firmly against these actions.

The executive order takes aim against seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. The many thousands of victims of this action are primarily Muslims, thereby making it extremely difficult for Mr. Trump to credibly argue his intent is not to target the Muslim community.

The president has stated his preference to come to the aid of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. The National Council of Churches, too, is deeply concerned about the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in war-torn regions. Our Christian sisters and brothers have been deeply impacted by anti-Christian persecution in Syria, Iraq, and other countries.

Nevertheless, placing a religious test upon those fleeing persecution is un-American.

Bishop Ough issues statement on Trump immigration order

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued a statement regarding President Trump’s executive order on immigration at a press conference sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Churches. The event, held at Hennepin United Methodist Church, gathered faith leaders to discuss the topic of immigration. Bishop Ough participated in today’s event in his role as resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church. The statement maintains The United Methodist Church’s unity in standing with other faith traditions to denounce the order, as well as calling all to remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 10:40: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

“I call upon the people of The United Methodist Church to see the face of Christ in the refugee,” Bishop Ough said. “Say ‘no’ to the walling off of our country and our hearts and say ‘yes’ to their hope – our hope – for new life. Let us unite and work together to bring the soul of this country to a living birth!”

Nelson says executive order is a ‘miscarriage of justice’

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement opposing President Trump’s executive action that has led to the detention of qualified refugees at U.S. airports and the refusal to board refugees headed to the U.S. from foreign airports.

“I urge the president and his administration to reverse this very harmful decision regarding refugees,” he said. “Presbyterians are not afraid of this so-called terror threat. We are not afraid because we profess a faith in Jesus, who entered the world a refugee.”

Nelson’s statement is in response to Trump’s executive action prohibiting immigration from the Muslim-majority countries of Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan. However, a NPR report yesterday found that since September 11, 2001, no Muslim extremist from these countries has executed an attack on American soil. Those attacks came at the hands of extremists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Russia and Pakistan, none of which are included in the travel or immigration ban.

Statement on US Presidential Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” and its Impact on Refugees

The World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance and The Lutheran World Federation join in reaffirming our conviction that our faith calls us and all Christians to love and welcome the stranger, the refugee, the internally displaced person, the other. We are called to treat him or her as we would like to be treated. Scripture and the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ are abundantly clear on this matter.

Leviticus 19:33-34

33 When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16

15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.

Matthew 25:34-36

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

As Christians seeking to live out this calling in service to others, we share and affirm the concerns expressed by many Christian leaders in the United States of America and around the world about the measures announced on 27 January 2017, suspending the entire US refugee admissions program for 120 days, indefinitely banning Syrian refugees, and suspending entry to the US by all nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

These measures have been introduced in the name of protecting the nation from terrorists entering the US. However, we support the view that in practice this order serves to further harm those who are the very victims of terrorism, genocide, religious and gender-based persecution, and civil war.

NCC Stands with Muslims of Quebec

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA expresses its shock and sadness at the killings that took place in the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec on the evening of January 29th. We offer condolences to the Muslim community in Quebec and take this moment to reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Muslim sentiment. We pray that God will give comfort to all who have suffered in the attack.

It is heartening to know that Canadians of all faiths and backgrounds have come to the assistance of their Muslim neighbors in response to this attack. Their actions live out our thoughts. We stand in solidarity with them, and particularly with our friends at the Canadian Council of Churches. NCC General Secretary and President Jim Winkler has been in direct contact with Rev. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the CCC.

Canada has been a bright beacon for immigrants during this dark time and now the forces of hatred have tried to turn off that light. May we all find hope in the words of Canada’s prime minister: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” We are encouraged, as this shows the light of reason and welcome is still shining in Canada.

Commentary: Remember the people behind the policies

Esther was on staff of the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ when I arrived there in 2008. She was the daughter of a Mexican diplomat who had been stationed in Phoenix for over 20 years. Her father was sent to serve in that position when she was just a baby. When I met her, she was in her early 20s and was helping organize our church camps and youth ministries.

Shortly after I arrived, her father died. She lost her status and was threatened with deportation. She didn't speak Spanish. She had no family in Mexico. She had lived in the U.S. for practically her whole life. She had no options. Because of her father's position with the government, she was a high profile immigrant without status. She couldn't hide.

She was also in a partnered lesbian relationship. Going back to Mexico without home, language, and family would only have been exacerbated by that relationship. She did the only thing that made sense to her: she fled to Canada, where she remains to this day.

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Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been a leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The 38 NCC member communions — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

José Luis Casal named new director of Presbyterian World Mission

Pastor, author and ecumenist is first person of color to head PC(USA) mission efforts

The Presbyterian Mission Agency announced today it has called the Rev. José Luis Casal as the new director of Presbyterian World Mission. He begins his duties in Louisville in April.

“José Luis’ mid-council experience, his work with ecumenical agencies and his pastoral experience in three different countries gives him a unique perspective to approach this important work,” said Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “He clearly understands the need to advance the scope of our international mission efforts and strengthen our relationships with our mission partners. With his warmth, knowledge, stable and seasoned leadership, the transition should be a seamless one.”

Casal has served as the general missioner of the Presbytery of Tres Rios in Midland, Texas since 2002. Born in pre-revolutionary Cuba, where he was ordained, Casal served as a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cuba. In 1989, he joined the Latin Council of Churches in Quito, Ecuador, also working with the World Student Christian Federation in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1991 he served in ministry at the United Evangelical Church in Quito, a PC(USA) partner church. In 1994 he moved to Florida to co-pastor a Hispanic congregation in Miami, Iglesia Presbiteriana El Cordero. Before joining Tres Rios, he was the organizing pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Canto de Esperanza in the Chicago area, where he grew the congregation from 0 to 144 members in record time.

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