Faith leaders urge all to welcome strangers, refugees

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President Donald Trump’s order banning refugees from seven Muslim countries was countered by the voices of faith leaders who reminded followers that “a Middle Eastern refugee savior taught us to love the foreigner like we love ourselves.”

The Rev. Omar Hamid Al-Rikabi, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Heath, Texas, and the son of an Iraqi Muslim immigrant, said Trump’s order is “unnecessary, unethical and immoral.”

“Any order that singles someone out based on nationality, ethnicity and religion is racist and abhorrent to the Constitution, but more so to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Rikabi said.

“Going forward, I do have hope in the American immigrant story… the one we all have, and the one that welcomed my father and our family. But my full hope rests in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church, located just blocks from the White House, said Trump’s actions call out for a response from people of faith.

“If we believe Christian lives are worth more than non-Christian lives, we need to examine our claim to be Christian,” she said in a statement on “Building Walls” that was read during both Sunday morning worship services.

The statement uses Scripture from Luke 22:27, “Jesus came among us not as someone who pushed his way to the front of the line, but as one who serves.”

After church, United Methodists were among 2,000 who rallied at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport. At least five United Methodist clergy attended, including the Rev. Jackson Day, a retired member of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

“It was heart-warming to be surrounded by such a large crowd of mostly young people, including a number of couples with young children, whose basic message was one of welcome and inclusion, and who cheered each time a new arrival emerged from customs. One of my favorite chants was ‘What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like,’” he said.

At the Indianapolis International Airport, nearly 1,000 people rallied at an event organized by an interfaith social justice coalition of 38 Indianapolis congregations including three United Methodist churches — Broad Ripple, Meridian Street and North.

Protesters chanted: “No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here” and “Love not hate — America great again.” They also sang several songs including the national anthem. Speakers came from several faith traditions and included Jewish rabbis, Muslims imams as well as Christian pastors.

On their way back to Washington, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat and a grandson of immigrants, and U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indianapolis and a Muslim, spoke out against the immigration ban. They called it unconstitutional and un-American.

United Methodist Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Dakotas-Minnesota Area and president of the Council of Bishops, said failing to assist refugees fleeing danger does harm to them and to us.

“When we abandon strangers who are at risk of bigotry, xenophobia and violence, we not only destroy their hope, we destroy our own souls,” he said. “I call on the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to rescind the harmful executive orders and save the soul of our country.”

United Methodist Bishop Peggy Johnson, who leads the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware conferences, said the order does not make the country safer.

“Violence against Americans is not a teaching of the Muslim faith,” she said. “I urge you to have conversations in your churches about this situation, mobilize to write letters, speak to your senators and legislators, and most importantly pray.”

Statements came from different faiths across the U.S. declaring Trump’s order is out of proportion to statistics on crime among immigrants and refugees.

Last week, several United Methodist leaders joined other faith communities in saying a series of executive orders concerning immigrants are in direct opposition to sacred texts to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner.

“As followers of Jesus, we reject in the strongest terms efforts to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall, penalize communities providing sanctuary, halt refugee resettlement or impose a religious test for those facing forced migration,” said the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

More than 2,000 faith leaders have signed a letter to President Trump and members of Congress from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition calling on them to welcome refugees of all nationalities and religions.

“United Methodist Women takes to heart Jesus’ commandment to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Throughout our 150-year history, we have carried this out by extending God’s love to women, men, youth and children around the world, including immigrants and refugees,” said Harriett J. Olson, top executive of United Methodist Women.

Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said, “I pray that the Trump administration will be guided in its immigration policy by international standards of human rights and respect for migrant workers as stipulated by United Nation’s Conventions.”

Leaders of National Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist immigration ministry, said they “vehemently oppose” two executive orders announced on Jan. 25 that focus on border security and interior enforcement.

“As people of faith, we are called upon to seek mercy, do justice, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Times change; governments change; yet these commands remain unchanged. JFON will continue to stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters and fight for them, and alongside them,” said Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of National Justice for Our Neighbors.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. Erik Alsgaard, communicator for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and Daniel Gangler, retired United Methodist communicator from Indianapolis, contributed to this report.

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