“As people of faith and as Americans, we must not allow fear to breed hatred and discrimination.”
Communities of faith decry anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric and actions, and urge us to stand for compassion, mercy and common sense.
Here they are, in their own words:
We are at a pivotal moment in our history. As we face the largest number of displaced people since the end of World War II, we must decide whether we act with the compassion and welcome towards those fleeing violence that previous generations of Americans demonstrated, or allow discriminatory, anti-refugee rhetoric to overshadow our legacy of leadership in refugee protection and resettlement. As people of faith and as Americans, we must not allow fear to breed hatred and discrimination. All refugees, regardless of their religion or country of origin are put through extensive background checks including biometric tests, individual interviews, and screenings by multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. has the most secure refugee resettlement process in the world. We can confidently resettle refugees seeking safety, honoring our country’s shared immigrant heritage, while maintaining the safety of Americans. Refugee resettlement and safety are not mutually exclusive. Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service
The best way to protect America’s values is by living out who we say we are. Indeed, we are a land of immigrants and we have a history of welcoming them and making them part of the American experience. Those who are now fleeing from the turmoil and chaos of Syria should be given refuge and assistance. Our nation has existing measures to screen out those seek to do violence and harm. We need not refuse entrance to our sisters and brothers from Syria. Jim Winkler, President, National Council of Churches
They did not realize that America stands tallest not because of our high rises but because of our unmatched respect for diversity, and openness to impoverished strangers from far and near.
The terrorists believed that they could destroy America by destroying our tallest towers. They did not realize that America stands tallest not because of our high rises but because of our unmatched respect for diversity, and openness to impoverished strangers from far and near. The miraculous role of America as a young nation through our short history has been its ability to transform the oppressed and the huddled masses from afar and giving them a new life of dignity and productivity to contribute to the betterment of America and of the human family at large. Sayyid M. Sayeed, National Director of Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America, Washington, DC.
Do not be seduced by the racialized demagoguery being used to whip up resentment towards refugees and our fellow Americans who are of Muslim faith. This is nothing more than unjustified fear being used by politicians for their own political gain. The twin evils of fear and the manipulation of political power ought to prompt immediate alarm bells and a rejection of such tactics. Rev. Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Washington, DC
The Preamble to the Constitution is a mission statement for America. Soberly considered, passionately debated, crafted to withstand the future unknown, no clause stands alone or supersedes another. Whenever fear shakes our faith in some of those words, American resolve begins to wane. When we rediscover the power of our mission, We the People are reminded that our real strength is in the fullness of our ideals. Jack Moline, Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance, Washington, DC
Our religious organizations are standing up to say a resounding “no” to this ongoing upsurge of bigotry and discrimination directed against American Muslims. Through our work with partners of many faith traditions and by joining together as members of Shoulder to Shoulder, a national interfaith coalition against anti-Muslim bigotry, we welcome American Muslims into our communities. We are committed to our core religious values of welcoming the stranger and treating people of another background as we ourselves would want to be treated. We hope all Americans will join with us in rejecting efforts to wrongly scapegoat American Muslims, or Americans of any faith, ethnicity or identity.
Let us never forget that our nation was founded upon the ideal of religious freedom for all; it is this value upon which all of us rely, whether or not we identify with a faith tradition. If we allow discrimination against a particular religious group to take root, we are opening the door for all religious communities to become the next targets. We must therefore work collectively to uphold the equal rights for all religious communities in this country, if we are to protect the freedoms sacred to us all. Shoulder to Shoulder statement signed by faith leaders
We must choose between strengthening the bonds of trust between diverse communities and fanning the flames of hatred that will destroy us. We all have it in us to choose the former. We have it in us to create expansive, global communities where violence is unimaginable, poverty is crushed, and all humans can flourish to their greatest potentials. In these moments of shared pain and fear, we are all called to find our connection and commonality — not to seek false and fleeting security by creating a “them” to separate from our “us.” Rev. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary, NY, NY
Pope Francis proclaimed that “refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women, and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes…the flesh of Christ is in the flesh of the refugees: their flesh is the flesh of Christ. That many governors and presidential candidates would have the United States stop accepting Syrian refugees or accept only Christians is both deplorable and a form of structural violence. The faithful response is to open our hearts and our homes to Syrians of all faiths in recognition of our sacred call to protect and nourish life.
To reject Syrian refugees out of fear would be wrong.
The U.S. government handpicks and thoroughly vets the refugees who resettle here. All refugees resettled in the United States undergo rigorous security screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies; these include biometric checks, forensic testing, medical screenings and in-person interviews. This is not an either/or situation. The United States can continue to welcome refugees while also continuing to provide an environment of safety. We must do both. Pax Christi USA, Washington, DC and 14 national Catholic organizations
We urge our political leaders and fellow citizens in all nations to open their hearts and borders to the millions of Syrian refugees who have fled their homes in search of safety and asylum. The refugees are not our enemy: they are our sisters and brothers, families with children, people like us who seek safety and shelter in a time of crisis. These refugees are victims of the same terrorist violence that killed hundreds of innocent people this past weekend. We must respond to them with justice and compassion, not vengeance and hatred. We must bring to justice those who committed these heinous crimes, but let us also welcome their victims with compassion. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, DC
It’s important at this time that we not disparage others’ rights of citizenship or religious beliefs. The American experiment in religious liberty has been successful in large part because it has been able to assimilate and protect the religious freedom of unfamiliar minority religions — from Baptists in colonial times to Catholics and Mormons in the 19th Century to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists in the 20th and, I pray, Muslims in the 21st. Common sense, as well as Christian charity, tells us that it is wrong to scapegoat — to blame an entire religion for the despicable acts of a handful of murderous outliers who claim that religious affiliation. All of Islam cannot be blamed for aberrant acts of criminals motivated by a perverted understanding of their religion, just as all of Christendom cannot be blamed for violence spawned over the years by the Ku Klux Klan. J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Washington, DC
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is saddened by the violence we witness in our world. We hold in prayer all who suffer as a result of these senseless acts of terror. We pray, too, for the strength and courage to respond to this violence with love and mercy. We refuse to let these acts of death and destruction sow the seeds of fear and mistrust that threaten to tear our communities apart and lead inevitably to more violence and harm.
The present situation presents us with great challenges and hard decisions. As Pope Francis reminded us just a few short weeks ago in his address to Congress,
Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.
As women religious, as citizens of the United States, we choose to stand together for life and love and hope. We will not give in to fear. We will not allow others to divide us by race or creed or nationality and we will not turn our back on our refugee sisters and brothers. Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Washington, DC
We cannot allow the violence wrought by ISIS and its allies to overshadow our values as Americans and as Reform Jews. As Jewish tradition teaches, “and each shall sit under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). We can ensure our security and fulfill our highest aspirations as a nation rooted in compassion and commitment to religious liberty. We call on members of Congress to oppose any effort to limit the acceptance of Syrian refugees, just as we urge public officials and figures across the U.S. to reject divisive and inflammatory statements that do not reflect our history as a nation founded by descendants of those who fled persecution in search of freedom. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Washington, DC
Calls to close American mosques, limit refugees to Christians, and refuse further admittance to Syrian refugees who are every bit as much victims of terrorism as those who lie dead in Beirut, Paris and elsewhere, are a betrayal of all that this country stands for. These refugees need our international protection. The definition of moral courage is to resist allowing fear to overwhelm our humanity. Now is the time to demonstrate our moral courage.
What is needed now is bold American leadership on behalf of what is right. Turning away refugees now is neither bold nor right. The utter disregard for human life shown by the terrorists should provide our leaders with even more impetus to help the Syrian people who are in dire need of international protection — including ours.
Just as it has done for 75 years, UUSC will continue to reach out and offer aid and support to those who suffer persecution and seek protection. We will never relent in our condemnation of terrorist violence or our abhorrence of ethnic and religious stereotyping and scapegoating. Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, President and CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Boston, MA
The United States has an extensive security process which has safely resettled 745,000 refugees since 9/11 without one arrest on domestic terrorism charges. I name that fact first because as we grapple with the question of whether we close our doors to Syrian refugees fleeing unfathomable terror, facts are often drowned out by fear. As a New Yorker who contemplates the vulnerability of my own family and city, I don’t discount or dismiss fear. But fear does not have to win this day.
Deciding between security or refugees, “them” or “us,” obscures the real choice we make in the most challenging of times: will our fear win, or will our humanity? Will we turn inward or will we live our highest values of love for the stranger, knowing the soul of the stranger as intimately as we do? As Jews who know what it means to be turned away from borders, our answer must be yes, let them in. And as Jews who still feel boundless gratitude for the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to save ours, the answer again must be yes; let them find safety here.
Those Righteous Gentiles were called so because they placed human life above all things, including fear; they saw their own children in the eyes of ours. Will righteousness also be our inheritance? When there is so much at stake, who will we be? Let us make our systems strong, our safety as assured as possible, our process vigorous, always. But let us also not be the people who turned our backs.
The words “never again” were never going to be easy to fulfill, but we have a chance to realize them in this very moment by speaking up resolutely for people who have literally no place to turn. May we act for our own sake and for the sake of the thousands who need the world to protect them right now. Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Central Synagogue, New York, NY
As Quakers we are called to “answer that of God in everyone.” Our work begins with ourselves and our own country. This must include our embrace of the “other,” in order to replace mere tolerance with understanding, respect, and sustained collaboration on issues of mutual concern. The Christian roots of Quakerism provide an understanding of embracing the “other” in Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The United States derives much of its strength and character from the many people who were once “other” and have built a great nation. We support openness to refugees.
We support increasing the number of Syrian refugees who seek stability, peace and freedoms we enjoy.
Recent terror attacks have elicited new levels of fear; however, a response to terrorism based on fear will not lead to security or peace. Governing from fear can lead to the sacrifice of the very freedoms we cherish in our democracy. As a country, we must redouble our efforts to press for a peaceful end to the violent conflict in Syria and Iraq that gives power to extremist violence. The perpetrators of these crimes must be held accountable for their actions. But justice for these crimes should come through the rule of law. To end terrorism, the United States should examine its own policies, including the continued operation of Guantanamo and the targeted killing of individuals by drone strikes and special forces, without accusations or trials. The U.S. should join with other nations to take control of the arms trade, which shares the power of death with so many, when we could share instead the support of life. Diane Randall, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Washington, DC
As much of our hearts ache over the recent terrible attacks in Paris, Beirut and other places around the globe, we should never demonize an entire religion and its adherents, many of whom are family, close friends, neighbors and cherished colleagues. Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice-President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees, Union Theological Seminary, NY, NY
After the tragic attacks in Paris, the world is confronted with questions about how we move forward. Frankly, it has been frightening to see some U.S. politicians call for internment camps, ID tagging and tracking of Muslim Americans, and the rejection of immigrants fleeing Syria that are not Christian. These proposals, plus calls for new military campaigns in the Middle East, betray what is best about America.
ISIL must be held accountable. Our best defense is to bring about a negotiated peace in Syria that brings new leadership and stability. At home, we should not allow fear of ISIL to dictate our policies. We show courage when we defend American principles of pluralism, freedom of worship for all, and a sense of pride in being an immigrant nation. We are all God’s children. Abandoning our values only fuels ISIL’s recruitment efforts. The United States must show the world our best by defending our most scared principles. Rev. Chuck Currie, Director, Center for Peace and Spirituality, University Chaplain, Pacific University, OR
We join together in prayer and call for our political leaders to reject any attempt to counter violence with more violence, and to work toward peaceful resolutions. We also call on our political leaders, and all who are using this moment to fan fear and anti-immigrant rhetoric, to recognize that the United States can continue to ensure national security and welcome refugees — and that it is our moral obligation to do so. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Leadership Team, Silver Spring, MD
The American Academy of Religion is deeply troubled by the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States and around the world. Hate speech and intemperate political discourse aimed at Muslims and other religious groups are opposed to the values of our learned society and to the most cherished commitments of American civic culture. We call on our members, other scholars of religion, and all Americans, to reject that divisive and dangerous speech and to reaffirm our shared commitment to a free and open society where all residents’ rights are recognized and protected. The AAR is the world’s largest scholarly society devoted to the critical study of religion.
On the heels of Thursday’s bombing in Beirut, the Interfaith Center of New York extends our greatest sympathies to family members and loved ones of those killed in yesterday’s horrific attacks in Paris. The loss of life is senseless and we pray for the victims of this terrible crime. One gift shared by our two great cities is that of a religiously diverse citizenry. Our prayers go out also to members of the French and American Muslim communities whose horror at yesterday’s tragedies may be compounded by a fear of future backlash. Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York, NY, NY
America’s history as a haven for immigrants and our Judeo-Christian values argue against closing our doors to keep out refugees from violence. Exodus reminds us (in chapter 22) that our ancestors were aliens in Egypt. Deuteronomy 27.19 warns, “Cursed by anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice.” The Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25 verses 35 and 43) quotes Jesus saying if you welcome a stranger “you invited me in,” but if you do not invite the stranger in, you did not welcome Jesus. The Book of Hebrews (13.2) warns “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Welcoming immigrants is an act of faith. Ford Rowan, Disciples Justice Action Network, Annapolis, MD
Efforts to provide help and opportunity to hungry and poor people are one powerful way to protect America’s values and safety. God has made it possible to end hunger in our time. Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
These voices are but a few of the voices of faith speaking out against anti-Muslim backlash, and in support of refugees — please check out part 2 of this series here.