Our Diocesan Lenten Program in the Diocese of Western New York this year is called “A Space for Grace”. The program will use Scripture and pieces of modern writing as launching pads for us to talk about our own stories and how those stories are informing our lives in the world today.
I have been thinking and praying all weekend about how to respond to President Trump’s executive order regarding travelers, immigrants and refugees and it seemed to me that using my own story was a place to start.
I am the husband and father-in-law of immigrants. My wife, Carmela, and her family came to the United States from Italy. I am blessed every day by the presence of Carmela and I literally cannot imagine my life without her. Carmela is a scholar and a professor and she has impacted the lives of her students and the institutions that she has served. The ripples of influence of the different perspective as well as the love of America that Carmela has brought cannot be measured. That influence is repeated by the life and work of every immigrant to our country. I see the same impact from the presence of my son-in-law, Dr. Rey Ramirez, whose father is from a family of Mexican immigrants. In my own family, I see the great benefits to this country of the presence of immigrants.
I grew up in the segregated South. I have seen the horrible impact of laws and practices based on fear and discrimination. It is not only those who are discriminated against who suffer. The whole society is warped and lives of everyone in the society are limited and maimed when we act out of fear, especially when we act out of fear of those who are different from us. The ripples of the negative effects of laws and practices that separate us from each other are as far reaching as the ripples of positive effects from immigrants in our society.
I am an historian. I have spent my life studying the past. I speak with knowledge and authority when I say that there is no time in the history of this country or any other, when excluding people based on race or religion or clan has been of benefit to the society that is excluding others. From the ancient Israelites through Europe in the Middle Ages to the multiple times in the history of the United States when we have excluded people based on race or religion or ethnic origin, it has always been detrimental. It comes back to the fact that acting out of fear is always the wrong choice. History teaches us this over and over and over again.
I am a proud citizen of Buffalo. Buffalo is a city formed by immigrants. From the Irish, Germans, Italian and Polish of the late 19th and early 20th century to the people from Syria, Burma, various nations of Africa, China, India and Japan today, immigrants have added to the economy and community and culture of Buffalo. The immigrants have made us what we are. It is hard to remember sometimes, but often immigrants have not been initially welcomed. The Irish were not welcomed, the Polish were not welcomed, the Germans were seen as enemy aliens and the Italian immigrants were accused of bringing a foreign religion and way of life. Today, we take great pride in being a city of immigrants and have festivals and restaurants and celebrations of the gifts they have brought. The same cycle is repeating with our newer immigrants. I am certain that in the, hopefully near, future, the Syrian and Burmese and Indian festivals will be every bit as much of the culture of Buffalo as the Italian festival, St. Patrick’s Day and Dyngus Day.
I am the Bishop of deacons and congregations involved in refugee resettlement. I have learned the difference between refugees and immigrants. There are no people who come to this country who are more thoroughly vetted then refugees. Refugees are fleeing the very people that we name as our enemies. In the last 40 years the number of American citizens killed by refugees in the entire United States can be counted on the fingers of one had. We are in no danger from the people who seek refugee from war and persecution in our country. This is what American was founded for – to be a place of refuge for all. That is what makes us a light to the world. Turning away refugees who have already been screened are have spent years proving themselves to a variety of government agencies is a betrayal of the founding principles of the United States of America. The draconian limits to the number of refugees in President Trump’s executive order is a betrayal of the spirit of America and the vision of our founders.
Most importantly, I am a follower of the God of Jesus Christ. It is not possible to read the Old Testament without hearing over and over and over again the call of God to his people to care for those in need, and particular to immigrants and foreigners. To give just one of hundreds of examples, as the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land that God had promised to them, God gave them instructions for the setting up of the society in the land that they were about to enter. God said this, “So circumcise your hearts and stop being so stubborn, because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. This means that you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19 CEB, emphasis added). We are all immigrants, we, as the American people, are all immigrants every bit as much as the people of Israel were and God’s command does not change. As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must love immigrants. As Episcopalians we promise over and over again to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. This is one small part of that vow.
I call on the Diocese of Western New York to join with me in standing against President Trump’s executive order, both as it applies to limiting immigrants from seven nations and as it applies to stopping all refugees for 120 days and limiting the total number of refugees.
Contact your elected officials. The White House is not taking phone calls, but you can send letters directly to the President at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC, 20500. Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you oppose this action and ask them to do anything in their power to oppose it. Brian Higgins represents the 26th Congressional district. His office can be reached at 716-852-3501 or 716-282-1274. Chris Collins represents the 27th Congressional district. His office can be reached at 716-634-2324 or 585-519-4002.
Support the work of the ACLU who are holding our government accountable to our Constitution, laws and the vision of our founders. You can donate through their website at www.aclu.org
Commit to supporting the resettlement of refugees. There are several organizations in Buffalo the help refugees resettle and become a part of our community. Donate, volunteer, help in any way that you can. Journeys End is one that Episcopal congregations have worked with. Their web-site is jersbuffalo.org. Contact Archdeacon Tom Tripp at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask advice on a program at your congregation on refugee resettlement.
Above all pray. Pray for those who have been turned away from our country. Pray for those who are being detained. Pray for those who will face further persecution or even death because of this action. And pray for President Trump and his advisors, that God will turn their hearts.
The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin
Bishop of Western New York
January 30, 2017