Banning refugees is as un-American as it is un-Christian

Demonstrators at a rally outside the White House, on Jan. 29, 2017, against President Trump's refugee ban recall the Holocaust. RNS photo by Jerome Socolovsky

(RNS) A little more than a week ago, President Donald Trump sat here at Washington National Cathedral as I offered a prayer asking God to “help break down the walls that separate us.”

A few days later, he signed an executive order imposing a complete travel ban on citizens from seven primarily Muslim nations, and a temporary ban on all refugees.

Trump’s actions are a challenge to the conscience of all Americans and people of goodwill.

This deeply troubling action is grounded in paranoia and fear of the stranger, and threatens to fracture families and unfairly penalize millions of innocent people. It is as un-American as it is un-Christian.

The president’s order, while temporary, is a narrow-minded response to the very specific problem of protecting our nation from the relative few who would perpetrate acts of terrorism on our soil.

The speed with which this executive order was implemented, and the lack of a reasonable rationale, suggests that it has less to do with national security and more to do with placating a xenophobic minority of citizens in our country. This seems especially the case when preferential treatment is given to some based on their religious identity.

The Washington National Cathedral’s Dean Randy Hollerith at the inaugural prayer service on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral/Danielle E. Thomas

The Washington National Cathedral’s Dean Randy Hollerith at the inaugural prayer service on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral/Danielle E. Thomas

I said at the time of the service that we welcomed Trump to the cathedral because it is a house of prayer for all people. We were honored to host him and many others for an interfaith service of prayer on behalf of our nation.

But I also said that we would not hesitate to voice our concerns when we disagree. I am sad that those disagreements have arisen so quickly, and I am disappointed that the president appears to ignore the voices that have spoken up in opposition to his actions.

Our Judeo-Christian tradition is clear. God commands us to welcome and care for the stranger among us. Deuteronomy teaches us: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus proclaims: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

And the Letter to the Hebrews implores us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

The teachings of Jesus are grounded in a radical love that seeks to embrace the outcast and the stranger, the hungry and the poor. Jesus tells us that when we love and care for exactly these kinds of people, we are, in fact, loving and caring for God:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Protesters outside White House on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, demonstrating against President Donald Trump's refugee ban. RNS Photo by Jerome Socolovsky

Protesters outside the White House on Jan. 29, 2017, demonstrating against President Donald Trump’s refugee ban. RNS photo by Jerome Socolovsky

We are a nation of immigrants, and the Statue of Liberty’s enduring promise to welcome “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is woven deeply into the fabric of our national life.

This executive order does not reflect or express our values to the world, and we cannot rise to the highest ideals of our nation if we systematically sink to our lowest impulses and close ourselves off to good people who seek to be in relationship with us.

Washington National Cathedral is a spiritual home for the nation. More importantly it is a voice for the oppressed, the disadvantaged and those in need. And we are a voice for refugees who look to us for sanctuary.

We will not sit idly by as our nation’s leaders turn their backs on one of the worst humanitarian refugee crises in history.

This executive order, based in fear and prejudice, violates our gospel call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Looking back on the prayer I offered at the inaugural service, we must continue to ask God to “take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts.” At the same time, our prayers should lead us to act in love for all those who would be marginalized or forgotten.

Yes, we need to protect our homeland, but we should never be motivated by xenophobia and bigotry. It is un-Christian and it is wrong. As Christians and as Americans, we are better than this.

(The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith is dean of the Washington National Cathedral)

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Randolph Marshall Hollerith


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  • The New Colossus

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

  • This should have been published in the Washington Post, not in the obscure Religious News Service. The rest of America should see that the leader of the church that prayed for the president on Inauguration Day is now deeply concerned about the course the president has taken. Surely the Post would have taken a letter from the Dean.

  • From Michael Burdick: Yes, it is true the Law says to be kind and compassionate to strangers as it also repeats this principle in the NT. But the OT Law and the New Testament are equally clear about excluding those considered a danger to their respective communities. Shall I list them for you? Yes, we must be as open as our resources allow to welcome those legally seeking entrance and in need of sanctuary. But this must be balanced with the wisdom necessary to exclude those who represent a danger to our ability to do so by breaking our laws and openly attacking us.

    If you are going to appeal to scripture, be sure to do so in a balanced way and don’t just cherry pick those passages which support your point of view. God does not lend Himself to such political machinations and He will hold you accountable for it. Additionally, I wouldn’t appeal to the OT Law too quickly were I you given that, after giving it to them on Sinai, God also told Israel to slaughter every man woman and child in Canaan upon occupying it–and then punished them for not doing so.

  • “less to do with national security and more to do with placating a xenophobic minority of citizens”

    That’s the issue. These refugees are very thoroughly vetted through a 2 year exhaustive process.

    If you know the bible very well, you know scripture requiring believers to care for the poor is neither cherry picking nor proof texting. There are more than 6000 verses related to kind treatment of the poor, sick, frightened, traveler . . . in other words, refugees. Open the bible to just about any page and you’ll find something.

    In the OT are plenty of stories of that nature. Many of them involve giving to prophets who were usually destitute. Then there is Gomorrah and Sodom, burned to a crisp for the way they treated itinerants.

  • On the other hand, how would we have felt about allowing tens of thousands of communists from the Soviet Union to settle in various areas of the U.S. in the 1950s?

    Islam is not only a religion but a competing ideology much as Communism is and was, incompatible with American beliefs and ideals… at least the America I grew up in.

  • We did. Especially after the Hungarian Uprising and Castro coming to power. If you could get past the Iron Curtain, asylum status was a given. We considered those people are best assets against the oppression they fled.

    It was also probably about the same as the reaction when we took in tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the mid 1970s, the Mariel Boat lift and Russia’s “refusniks” of the 80’s. A ton of panic and bigotry followed by a brief rise in organized crime. Then a generation later, a fully integrated ethnic community and people pretending it all went smoothly. Three countries have sent us their worst criminals and everything still seems to work.

    Every wave of refugees has been met with hostility and fear. Yet the US has the best record in the world for integrating them.

  • From Michael: I think you should read what I said again before responding because You seem to have missed the point where I agreed with you on taking care of the poor and strangers to the best of our ability. (The entire first paragraph, actually) Additionally, you ignore the scriptures which clearly denote the exclusion of those who are deemed a danger to the respective communities to whom they were considered a threat. Again, I ask–do you want a list? You also ignored my mention of Gods judgment on those who failed to obey those commands. Finally, you employed obfuscation by tossing out red herrings about prophets (who were not immigrants and) and Sodom and Gomorrah, whose list of crimes are described in the following verse when God was excoriating Israel for her idolatry: “This is the sin of thy sister Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness were in her and her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy and she committed abominations before me, therefore I took her away as I saw fit.” So you see, S&D’s destruction was about far more than a lack of hospitality–and disturbingly like what America is becoming. But that is another subject. Acceptance of and care for immigrants and refugees is a biblical moral imperative, true, but it is not a right, it is a privilege and our Government is responsible to administer it wisely. This has not been done.

  • Is this reply for Michael? If you are replying to me . . .

    The prophets were often migrants from one village to another. That was immigration in that time.

    What you write as the sin of Gomorrah and Sodom is a longer definition and the difference between that and summarizing as inhospitality is insignificant.

    Last, no refugee has committed a terrorist attack in the USA. Some immigrants have, though the majority of terrorist attacks in US history have been committed by white male American citizens.

  • As charter members of the congregation of Washington National Cathedral, my wife and I are extremely proud of Dean Hollerith for speaking up in defense of Christian–and American–values. In these difficult times, such courageous leadership is desperately needed. It is with deep sadness that I worry that the martyrdom of the religious leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis in 1945 may become more and more relevant to our own times.

    But no one needs to be martyred, if we all stand together against Trump’s would-be dictatorship.

  • I am glad to see Dean Hollerith finally take a stand, as I was appalled when he sent the Cathedral Choristers, comprised partly of National Cathedral girls, to sing at Trump’s inauguration. There was no precedent for singing at this event in the history of the Choristers; what’s more, Kathleen Jamieson, Head of School at National Cathedral, strongly objected to his sending her students to celebrate a misogynist. Hollerith also acquiesced to Trump’s demand that there be no sermon at the Prayer Service. What could Trump possibly learn from a sermon that might touch on humility, empathy, compassion? I’m sure Dean Sayre has been spinning in his tomb at the sucking sound that is leadership in a vaccuum. Maybe the rotations will start to slow as Hollerith finally begins to pay attention to what this president is about. There is moral work to be done here. It’s not just about raising money.

  • From Mary: I just unlinked my DisQus and Facebook accounts. I don’t think Michael will notice.

  • This is (to the best of my recollection) my first post ever on this site.
    For the record:
    I did not vote for Mr. Trump, or for Mrs. Clinton.
    As a Catholic, I tried to vote in accord with the teachings of the Church.
    I am the son of immigrants.
    I was dismayed during the campaign at how Mr. Trump has treated the already born women, but too many Christians nowadays blink at butchering the unborn, both boys and girls.
    I find the talk about immigrants to be facile, not thoughtful — and this time I mean the conversation hosted by Mr. Trump’s opponents. Certainly, immigration reform needs to take place, but treating all immigrants identically is to treat as the same things which are not. We have a tax structure which treats an unmarried man differently from the married father of a large family, so there is much precedent to make proper, valid distinctions.
    As the “separation of Church and State” advocates like to point out when the adage works, temporarily, in their favor, America is not a Christian nation, and our government is not allowed to promote the Christian treatment of refugees or immigrants.

  • Thanks, Randy – you help us stay focused on what Christ teaches and where He leads us to love and action in love.

  • I question whether the refugees from Hungary were dyed-in-the-wool communists. Ditto the Vietnamese. They may have truly been fleeing the oppression of Communism.

    Few of the Muslim refugees coming here are fleeing Islam, as far as I know.

  • Your comment was fundamentally ignorant of history and how refugees typically come to thus country. You are simply assuming the Syrian refugees are somehow different from every one who has fled an extremely repressive regime.

    They aren’t fleeing Islam, they are fleeing Islamicism. Extremist belief put in repressive practice. If you can’t tell the difference, you won’t be able to carry on an intelligent conversation on the subject and will just be venting bigoted nonsense.

    The whole idea that the religion of Islam makes one suspect as a terrorist is exactly what ISIS wants. They celebrated trumps ban for three reasons. It keeps people under their thumb, it helps recruiting, it prevents the US from wielding it’s most powerful asset, freedom loving Muslim Americans.

  • Actually the Syrian Civil War was caused by a combination of dictator fatigue and the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Any causal links to the US are tenuous and post facto at best. They are fleeing a war being largely fought between repressive nationalists and islamicists with kurdish independence forces in the middle. But don’t let years of accumulated facts from a variety of sources get in the way of panicky ignorant screeds.

    You are quoting Wing Nut Dirt at me and expect it to be taken seriously? Really? Can you pick a less reliable source for reporting if you tried? The amount of fake news and alternative facts coming from there make it something to be dismissed out of hand without some kind of corroboration.

  • Good point gapaul. Its not too late. Anyone know if there is a reporter at the Post that covers religious matters?

  • Then why are there 15 members of Congress who are Muslim — each sworn to uphold the Constitution? Why are Muslims represented in statehouses, and in the military and in police departments across the country if their religious beliefs are incompatible with American beliefs and ideals? Let me guess: you don’t know a single Muslim.

  • It helps if you know someone; that is all I was suggesting. How the Dean proceeds with the Post is up to the Cathedral PR/Communications folks.

  • Huh? A communist, who presumably wouldn’t swear to hold up the Constitution, wouldn’t serve in our military, and is basically committed to the overthrow of the US? Um, no. But that is not what we’re dealing with here. NOT same-same.

    I have to ask — do you know any Muslims? Are you aware they come in the same flavors as Jews and Christians — meaning, for example, more or less culturally attached –like Christmas and Easter go-to-church folks, or secular Jews, who happen to have some connection to their heritage or family traditions, or rabid, dangerous (Christian Identity) sorts. And everything in between. Their version of garden variety Episcopalians. You want to throw them all in the same basket and pretend they are all out to get you.

    Muslims have fought in all major American wars — Revolutionary, Civil, WWI and WWII, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. So they’ve been hiding this hatred of the Constitution for a long time, no? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslims_in_the_United_States_military

  • An op ed piece is not a presentation of facts. If any of the article could be confirmed as true, it would be in a regular news column, not in the opinion section.

    You guys really have a problem with distinguishing facts from hysterics.

  • Outstanding! This should be an op-ed in every newspaper. My Episcopal rector published a similar article in our weekly parish newsletter. Some opine that members of the clergy have no business involving themselves in politics. Nonsense, I say. Many people of faith, including me, are in need of spiritual guidance.

  • They are also fleeing Assad, who is a brutal dictator who should be gone (but continues to be there with the help of Russia).

  • “Last, no refugee has committed a terrorist attack in the USA.”

    Would you hazard a guess at how many refugees have been ARRESTED for terrorist-related activity?

    “Some immigrants have, though the majority of terrorist attacks in US history have been committed by white male American citizens.”


  • I agree with gapaul: This statement last month by Dean Hollerith was a balm against the president’s shameful executive order to ban entry to residents from certain countries. I thank Rev Hollerith for sharing these words with RNS readers and wish a wider audience could have read his commentary.

  • I’m sorry, but I see this situation totally different from this article, Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, that is, LEGAL immigrants. WE, like other countries, agreed to take only a certain amount of immigrants each year, that amount being determined by what we can afford, and certain rules, such as sponsorship’s, and employability, etc. America like other countries, are responsible for our own citizens NOW, who are unemployed,can not afford to feed and cloth there own families, and legal immigrants already in our system. By allowing OTHER ILLEGAL immigrants to enter and stay, to me THAT is being UN American. Look at our situation TODAY. We are being invaded, by people who have NOT been properly screened and we know NOTHING about them. At the same time, we have people who have openly stated they want to KILL Americans,for the simple reasons we do not believe as they do, and YOU have the audacity to tell US we are acting in a UN-Christian manner? YOU are part of the problem, try and be part of the solution.

  • Ms. Cabell, Will you volunteer to take a family of these immigrants into your home to be responsible for? Will YOUR church take in several immigrants if asked? I myself would LOVE to be able to answer this same question in the affirmative, but I KNOW I CAN NOT. NOW, put yourself in YOUR COUNTRY’S’ place, and realize that if you do what you’ve been asked, not only will you be destroying those already in your care, but you destroy those you very much want to help. THAT’S what our country and our President is faced with. NOW, do you understand?