There were a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me growing up in a church. As I now identify as queer and an atheist, I feel a massive disconnect between myself and that environment. However, one thing that has always stuck with me was my congregation’s humanitarian efforts and fundraising campaigns for communities far outside our own.
Our church had relationships with pastors in the war-torn country of Haiti and worked with them closely on a consistent basis. One of my favorite things I got to participate in was creating care packages for children there during Christmas. It was something I looked forward to all year. We also sent crews of young volunteers to Mexico to assist with things like building homes and schools. These kinds of philanthropic activities, to me, were directly linked to Christianity from a young age, and as I got older, I became more and more involved with independent projects outside of the church helping those who were less fortunate.
This is why I am shocked and heartbroken by the fact that many people who claim to have deep faith, including many in the same church I grew up in, are refusing to accept refugees into their hearts and into this country and even using vile language when expressing that rejection.
I was taught that love and compassion should not end at the doors of the chapel, yet I am seeing so much hatred outside as well as inside of it since Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting refugees and immigrants was proposed. And all of it is completely unjustified.
There really is nothing more traditional than showing love and acceptance.
First, the screening process for refugees is more rigorous than that for the millions of foreign visitors and students who come to the U.S. each year. So the claim that we need more vetting does not make much sense considering it already takes up to 24 months for a refugee to be cleared for entry.
Second, our nation does not even take in that many refugees in the first place. In my opinion, we need to take in far more. Let’s look at Syria. Since October 2011, the state who took in the most refugees from the violence-stricken nation is California. Last year, they accepted 7,908. Considering the state’s population is nearly 39 million, that refugee total is microscopic.
We can throw facts and stats out there all we want, like how you’re more likely to be killed by lightening than by a refugee or like how out of the 784,000 refugees that resettled in America from 2001 to 2015, only 3 of those were linked to planning terrorist activities, two of which were “not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”
Meanwhile, a study released in 2015 found that since 9/11, more people have died in attacks by white organizations than any other group. Other attacks by white men “like the massacres in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut, were not included, since they do not appear to have been caused by a specific ideology.”
But data aside, this comes down to a matter of values.
One of my favorite people of all time, Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, speaks often about how devout faith requires one to practice acceptance of all people and to fight for civil rights and how anything less is immoral. He says, and I quote, “When religion is used to camouflage meanness, we know we have a heart problem in America.”
And this isn’t a “whiny liberal” or a “snowflake” saying this. This is a Christian teacher.
It is indeed our moral responsibility to be compassionate and to help those in need. Many Biblical figures, even Jesus himself, were refugees and were shunned by society. In the Bible, there are a multitude of verses encouraging believers to take in those who have less than you.
Hebrews 13:2 states, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Matthew 25:35-40 tells you to welcome strangers the same way you would welcome Jesus Christ.
And John 3:17, not as popular as its neighbor 3:16, reads: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
When God commanded “do not forget to do good and to share with others,” that wasn’t limited to people who share your same skin tone or religion or country. We should be doing everything we can for everyone who is suffering. If you value life, especially if you call yourself “pro-life” as many Christians do, then you should put it into action across the board. Prove the love you claim you have in your heart instead of spewing vitriol in the false name of “safety.”
And if you see the idea of welcoming refugees and immigrants regardless of their religion or the color of their skin as a radical one, then you should step back for a minute.
Because there really is nothing more traditional than showing love and acceptance.
I heard it every Sunday while sitting in church, and although I no longer identify as Christian, I still practice that traditional idea every day and I practice it now when advocating for the welcoming of refugees and immigrants into this great nation.
Believe it or not, you can sit in the pew while at the same time stand up for what’s right and just.