We are all Syrian. We are all Muslim.
The last nine days have been a disquieting and dizzying display of presidential action in Mr. Trump’s first days in office. It is difficult for us to find focus as he occupies the media space railing about the size of the inauguration crowd and making unsubstantiated claims regarding voter fraud. From a public policy perspective, there is much to worry about: news blackouts from federal departments, possible trade wars, and comments about illegal torture to name a few.
However, Friday’s executive order to halt immigration from seven Muslim countries, including the suspension of refugees from war-ravaged Syria, is an affront to our sense of fairness and equity. Indeed, the president even stated that our nation would give preferential treatment to Christians over Muslims, thereby invoking a religious standard for entry that is anathema to our national creed. Fanning the fears of 9/11 and ISIS, the president wants us to believe that we will be safer because we change who we are as a people who welcome the immigrant and the refugee. But we are the nation of the Marshall Plan, Famine Relief and Tsunami recovery. Our dark chapters of the last century include Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order 9066, which interred Japanese Americans because of their ethnicity. This is too eerily familiar. Surely we have learned from our past and discovered the better angels of our nature.
As a Christian and a bishop, I have struggled with Trump’s quick claims of his own Christian identity, which seem at odds with his sexist behavior, his dishonesty, and his ostentatious consumption and wealth. But I now know what “America First” means to him and I cannot be silent. America First means the exercise of power and selfishness of which I want no part. These actions will give fodder and strength to those who wish to do us harm. We are at our best as a nation when we give. We are strong when we have appropriate boundaries and an open heart. The truth of the Christian life is indeed part of our national story: it is in giving that we receive.
After 9/11, the French paper, La Monde, ran a headline that declared: “Nous sommes tous Americains,” “We are all Americans.” In the spirit of the Confessing Church of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that stood against Nazi Germany, this follower of Jesus Christ can only stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from other nations and other faiths who are refugees. On this day, we are all Syrian. We are all Muslim.
President Trump’s actions are unacceptable and un-American. They do not represent who we are as a people. We must recover our senses. It is time to speak out in the name of all faiths and our national identity as a people united in our diversity. That is our gift to the world.