Last shall be first

Offering refuge fits religious, secular values

Feb 13, 2017 by

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The slogan “America first” may take various forms in the coming years, but hostility toward Muslim refugees and other immigrants has become an integral part of it. Acting quickly after taking office, President Trump ordered a southern border wall and temporarily banned the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries. A federal judge blocked the travel ban Feb. 3.

Christians follow a different principle: “The last shall be first.” If “America first” means putting Muslim refugees last, we know what our faith requires: turn the order of favored people upside-down, as Jesus taught. Protecting immigrants and welcoming refugees is our priority.

Mennonite Central Committee decried the executive actions: “In our society, rejection of the immigrant — ‘the other’ — still runs deep whether due to fear, ignorance, racism or selfishness. By building walls and turning away refugees we ignore Christ’s call to care for those in need and to love the stranger among us as we love ourselves.” MCC was just one of many religious groups, civil rights advocates and secular corporations to speak out.

The president’s exclusion order betrays humanitarian ideals rooted in America’s immigrant tradition. The Statue of Liberty’s promise to welcome huddled masses has earned the status of secular scripture. Trump reads from a different playbook. Portraying immigrants as terrorists and criminals, he campaigned on a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration. He counts right-wing extremist Stephen Bannon, who has spread anti-Muslim views, among his closest advisers. Under such leadership, a nation known for welcoming those in need of refuge is exchanging its reputation of compassion for one of fear and prejudice.

Though no Syrian has committed an act of terrorism on American soil — and the U.S. has been settling people from war-torn countries for decades without trouble — the president’s executive order singles out Syrian refugees for an indefinite ban beyond the 120-day suspension for others. “They’re ISIS,” Trump said, without evidence. In fact, due to already rigorous screening, the odds of an American being killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist in a given year have been calculated as 1 in 3.64 billion. The president’s action plays into the radical Islamist war-of-civilizations narrative, potentially aiding terrorist recruitment by demonstrating American hostility toward Muslims generally.

Showing their commitment to generosity and inclusion, people of faith across the United States are joining the sanctuary movement. The number of congregations vowing to protect immigrants doubled to more than 800 between Election Day and the presidential inauguration. The movement was already growing during the administration of Barack Obama, when 2.5 million people were deported.

In front of Mennonite churches and homes across the nation, signs proclaims in English, Spanish and Arabic, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” For Christians, no nation should come first. We belong to a global community that doesn’t close the door on those in need. Christ calls us to reverse the order of privilege, moving to the front of the line those fleeing war and persecution, regardless of faith or ethnicity.


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