As bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks of the last week, in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Egypt, and across the Middle East. DAESH (ISIS) is an illness that seeks to cultivate fear and mistrust. Our prayers are with all victims of violence and their families.
DAESH is under fire by France, Russia, the United States, and others. Its short history won’t last. DAESH wants us to hate refugees.
Every day, Syrians—including Christians persecuted for their faith—are being tortured, murdered, bombed, and traumatized. Of the millions of Syrian refugees, the United States offers to settle a small number—just 10,000 people over the next year. To close the door on resettling Syrian refugees would be signing a death warrant for thousands of families fleeing for their lives.
Are we prepared to say, as we approach the Christmas season, that there is no room in the inn?
During World War II, there were fears about terrorism by Japanese immigrants living in the United States. These fears led, regrettably, to internment camps. Similar fears—also unfounded—existed about Germans fleeing Nazi Germany. Jews were denied visas, most notably the family of Anne Frank. On June 4, 1939, the passenger ship SS St. Louis, with more than 900 Jewish passengers on board, was turned away from Florida, and the ship returned to Europe. More than 250 of the passengers ultimately died in Nazi death camps.
Jesus once told the story of a man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The priest and the Levite passed by, no doubt in fear for their own safety. Only the Good Samaritan—a member of a despised ethnic group—stopped.
I hear the concerns for safety of the U.S. public. The Departments of State and Homeland Security can answer these questions. About 70,000 refugees are resettled in this country every year. They are the most-vetted community in the U.S. Half of those fleeing are children; half are women. Only 2 percent are men of the age of combatants; these men are primarily professional Syrians who have the resources to flee.
Let us not allow fear and rumors of threats to keep us from extending the welcome that is central to our American identity and, for many of us, our faith.