Rebuttal from the Pews to Pastoral Letter on Refugees

Jason Micheli —  February 6, 2017 — 4 Comments

Like the community we call Trinity, I believe the Church is constituted by the sacraments in order to be a community of both difference and peace. I believe the Church is called not to make the world a better place but to be the better place God has already made in the world. I believe the Church is that better place when our differences about the kingdom we call America are transcended by the Kingdom to which we’re called in Christ, when we’re a place where there is neither Democrat nor Republican for we are all one in Christ.

It would be naive to suppose the local church can be a community of such character without intentionality.

Surely a requisite step to becoming a community of difference and peace is to (peaceably) listen to those who are different from you.

Last week here on the blog I posted a pastoral letter we emailed out to my congregation regarding the executive order on refugees. Nearly 1,000 people read the letter, almost a 50% read rate. Of those who responded to it, 81% were positive and affirming while 19% were negative or critical (or, to be no-bullshitting-honest, xenophobic).

Among the critical responses, I received the rebuttal below from someone I consider myself lucky to count a friend, someone who works in politics professionally.

As much as I think many Trump supporters need to get out of their echo chamber, I think progressive Christians right now would be well-served to hear how their cries of outrage are heard by conservative Christians.

In the spirit of aspiring to be that better place that is Christ’s fellowship of differents, I post it here so the cloud of witnesses on this issue has more than one blue hue:

1. Your letter to the congregation took a great deal of effort and perspective and risk and I appreciate that, not only from a detached theological perspective but from a personal one as well.

2.  I am of course pissed you wrote it now because we didn’t do this kind of thing when the previous President legitimized the most murderous regime in the world. Or when he put two supreme court justices who have a callous disregard for human life. Or when we allowed Christians and Yazidis to be slaughtered in Syria AND THEN REFUSED TO ADMIT THEM AS REFUGEES. (True story…you know how many Syrian Christians Obama admitted as refugees at the height of the crisis? Look it up. It’s under 500. And Christians are 10% of the population.)

Why do we now feel like this is the first time in this decade we need to weigh in? (this is a rhetorical question – I realize the pressure in your profession is immense, internal and external, and I truly do appreciate the risks you are taking, as is.)

3. I think a deeper pause is necessary than most protestant organizations, including Southern Baptists, have given on the refugee EO. There is no refugee “ban.” Read the EO itself. It is a 90 day pause, for seven countries – with “countries” being an incredibly generous use of the term to describe Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya since the term “country” would imply a functioning government.

Throughout our history political refugees have been people who were clearly fleeing oppression from a center of government power, but in none of those cases except Iran does any center of power exist on a consistent basis. IT IS POSSIBLE that after 90 days the President proposes something that is completely unacceptable.

But it is also possible that the “extreme vetting” his career state department bureaucrats will design will be a real improvement on the disastrous situation we have today, with not enough vetting, or the wretched European system of no vetting whatsoever to decipher refugee from jihadist.

WHY SHOULD WE, ALL DENOMINATIONS, HAVE VOMIT HATE TOWARD OUR NEIGHBORS DOWN THE STREET over a policy that is not even designed yet, much less implemented?

I realize that the issuance of an executive order on a Friday  night, with confusing language about green cards holders which was easily misunderstood by customs agents worldwide does not inspire confidence that these new procedures will be good. But they are not even yet in existence. And let’s all be honest that our current system is a disaster – with Yazidis and Christians slaughtered in Syria because they are too afraid of lax security in United Nations camps that they decided to stick it out and take their chances in their homes against ISIS than be raped under the auspices of UN protocols, waiting helplessly for an Obama administration that was doing nothing meaningful to get them out of harm’s way.

4. The failure to acknowledge that the pain and suffering and atrocities around the world due to US policies did not begin on January 20, 2017 is perhaps the most irritating thing about all these protests and whining and self-righteous calls to “stand for justice.”

Where have these people been? Why are they suddenly triggered? What makes the PhD students stuck in the Dusseldorf airport more sympathetic than the Yazidi woman raped because we wouldn’t enforce a redline we drew our own damn selves?

The idea of the novelty of the outrage is just too much to take. Plenty of us have been outraged for years and we did not take to the streets to try and tear our culture asunder as a result, or accuse those in the next pew of being unChristian.

The Left, and the professional clergy corporately, sure are not affording those of us on the Right the same presumption of purity of motive that many of us (most of the time) gave them – or at a minimum the same civility.

The glaring lack of that makes me appreciate your efforts at balance more.

Jason Micheli


4 responses to Rebuttal from the Pews to Pastoral Letter on Refugees

  1. I couldn’t make sense of the Christian vs. Muslim Syrian refugee matter so I investigated. Agree or not, FactCheck offers another perspective on why the number of Christians seem underrepresented in the number of refugees who found admittance to the US.. But honestly, if I believed the US was denying entry to Christians for some philosophical reason I would be very angry as well.

    I have been paying attention to this story for quite some time, as I have friends who are Syrian Christians who have been in the US for more than a decade, though they have family still in Syria. The claims of this letter do not match their accounts. I understand the author’s frustration at those of us on the left questioning the motives of those further to the right, but it is simply not the case that we all just woke up to the plight of refugees and religious minorities in particular this past month. That is as much a smear as the idea that those who urge caution are simply self-centered and uncaring. I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for my church and my town which has been raising money and readying itself to accept refugees for quite some time, as well as supporting Syrian Christian charities beginning more than a year ago.

    What I suppose has animated some of us in these past few weeks is a sense that the truth isn’t being told, which is the same thing which seems to have prompted the anger of the letter writer. We think that when President Trump says there is little vetting or the vetting is weak, that isn’t fair to the actual process as it currently exists. Calls for “more” are meaningless in the absence of information about what is currently being done. The Administration’s comments leave the impression that the process is woefully inadequate. Because some of us believe it is not, we question whether a “pause” to improve vetting, predicated on a lie about its current state, can be trusted to end reasonably and fairly. And the US is simply not the same as Europe. Boats of unvetted Syrian refugees are not arriving on our shores and never will.

    I also gather there were other reasons for the letter-writer’s frustrations with Obama, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the most “murderous regime” was that he legitmized. Is that Syria? As recently December the US was condemning the Syrian government at the Security Council. Perhaps the author meant someplace else? Tibet, Somalia, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia? I can’t remember Obama celebrating or legitimizing the human rights records of any of these nations.

  2. Thanks for posting.

    “Professional politician”…. in the field of immigration? I’m sorry, but a lot of hyperbole and proof texted stats & facts being used to support the narrative here.

  3. Thank you for being loving and honest enough to print this rebuttal. The author articulates my primary frustrations with this situation. I would add that the justifiable fear the Muslims and immigrants are currently feeling is being shamefully exploited by the actions of people who are truly the angriest about the fact that Trump is the President.
    My heart grieves for so many in our world and I am deeply hurt by the implication from anyone in my clergy that I am not on the same side of this issue that Christ is because I am not outraged enough. I believe God discerns the motives of our hearts.
    Our world would be much closer to God’s kingdom on earth if some of this outrage had been mobilized for the poor and forgotten in our own country, the children in Africa, the gentle people in Haiti or even the Syrian refugees 5 years ago.
    I question the true motivation behind all of this, but that does not make me xenophobic.

  4. Jason, thanks for posting this rebuttal. First the Aldersgate pastor’s letter was published. It was a well-worded attempt to get us onto a bridge of understanding each other as opposed to the current tone of lobbing adverbs and adjectives across the fence at at each other. I thought today’s rebuttal was an excellent attempt to express a particular perspective. I’m so glad I read it. Anyone who wants to nitpick the reply can certainly do so, but it just seems more valuable to try to understand what the writer was saying. (For the record, I regularly call on a woman who tells me whats wrong with the Lord’s Prayer). Anyway, thanks for publishing the rebuttal. It helps move us along the bridge of understand the pastor’s letter started.

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