Bishop’s Reflections on Terrorism and Refugees
We are all painfully aware of the terrorist attack last week in Paris and Friday in Mali. It now seems clear that the Russia Metroflight plane over the Sinai was brought down by a terrorist bomb. This follows months of inhuman acts by ISIS, a group which twists Islam to justify what only can be described as evil. Through the centuries, Christian theologians have articulated a standard for just war. A persuasive case can be made that ISIS is such a lawless and destructive force that it must be stopped. However, as political leaders grapple with the vexing question of how to confront ISIS, we must be mindful of our own reactivity as a people.
As a nation, we have done immense harm when we have divided humanity. At our birth, we divided into slave and free. The Trail of Tears and the Battle of Wounded Knee are just two moments when our forebears divided human beings and treated Native Americans as less than human. In the last century, we failed to honor the civil rights of Japanese Americans who were unlawfully detained in internment camps. And presently, some divide humanity between those who are documented and those who are not. Some of our most intractable problems as a nation come from our propensity to divide: Ferguson and racism, religious intolerance and anti-Muslim rhetoric, even our increasing economic divide.
All of this provides a degree of context for our overreaction to the wave of terrorism that the world is enduring. Specifically, several governors have said that they would resist settlement of Syrian refugees and just Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill, Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE), that would essentially prevent our nation from admitting an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees. The fear, of course, is that we would erroneously admit terrorists. And it is impossible to assure that such an outcome is not possible.
As a nation of immigrants and refugees (over 40 percent of us can track our ancestry through Ellis Island), we must not be changed by terrorists. If because of ISIS, we pass laws restricting refugees, if we impede compassion, if we impinge civil liberties like after 9/11, then ISIS will win. Now is the time for our nation to rally around her core values so eloquently stated in our first piece of American scripture, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These immortal words echo holy words from the apostle, Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).
This is who we are as a Christian people. This is who we are as citizens of the United States. We take risks for those who suffer. We are descendants of the Good Samaritan and Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa. Our fathers and mothers gave to the Red Cross, created the Marshall Plan, rebuilt Europe, adopted orphans from war torn countries, helped rebuild New Orleans, and we will be there when tragedy strikes again. Now is the time for us to be touched by the better angels of our nature. Now is the time to remember who and whose we are. Now it is time to love and not fear. That is the only thing that will heal our broken world.