House of Deputies President Gay Jennings: Stand with Refugees

Posted Jan 31, 2017

[House of Deputies] The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church House of Deputies, wrote to deputies Jan. 31 about how and why the Church ought to continue its support of refugees.

Dear Deputies:

Like many of you, in the last week I have watched the news from Washington D.C. unfold with increasing disbelief and growing fear for the most vulnerable among us. The new administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a suitable replacement, silence journalists and advocates, and distort our national conversation with lies disturb me as an American and a person of faith. I intend to resist.

I am particularly horrified by the ban on refugees signed by President Trump on Friday evening. It is quite simply an act of malice, particularly toward our Muslim sisters and brothers, and Christians must oppose it loudly and with strength. Many of you are doing so, and I am grateful for the statements and sermons I have seen and the photos in my Facebook feed of Episcopalians gathered at airports and other protest sites to express our church’s commitment to welcoming the stranger. You can find that commitment articulated in actions of General Convention dating back to 1979 (the earliest date at which the archive is digitized) on the website of the Archives of the Episcopal Church.

Right now, more than 65 million people are currently displaced by war, conflict and persecution–the largest number in recorded history. We have an urgent moral responsibility to receive refugees and asylum seekers who are in dire need.

As Christians, we should be particularly worried that the refugee ban targets people from seven majority-Muslim countries. God’s command to welcome the stranger and care for aliens is a mandate to welcome all people, regardless of their faiths. Just as God in the Hebrew Bible commanded the Jews to welcome non-Jewish strangers, we are commanded to welcome people who practice different faiths. A refugee ban that specifically targets Muslim people, or that gives Christians special priority for resettlement above other persecuted people simply because they are Christian, is fundamentally un-Christian.

Such a ban is also unnecessary. The United States has the most rigorous refugee screening process in the world, involving the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Counter Terrorism Center. The process includes biometric checks, medical screenings, forensic testing of documents, DNA testing for family reunification cases, and in-person interviews with highly trained homeland security officials.

As Episcopalians, we can take particular pride in our long history of refugee resettlement. Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the United States, and since 1988, working under both Republican and Democratic administrations, we have welcomed more than 50,000 refugees in partnership with dioceses, congregations, community organizations and volunteers across the country. In 2015 alone, EMM helped resettle nearly 5,000 refugees in 30 communities by working with local partner agencies in 26 dioceses and 22 states.

Over the weekend, I spoke with the Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson, EMM’s director, and assured him of my prayers and assistance as he and his team navigate these extraordinarily difficult times. Please remember the people of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the refugees they assist in your own prayers, and take this opportunity to learn more about this vital ministry of the Episcopal Church.

Today Rebecca Blachly, the director of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, and her team launched a new advocacy initiative called the 2×4 Fight for Refugees Campaign. I am going to participate, and I hope you will join me. When we join the campaign, we will commit to calling our national, state, and local elected officials four times during the next two months on behalf of refugees. You can learn more about the campaign and find advocacy materials online, and sign up for more advocacy alerts on this and other issues by joining the Episcopal Public Policy Network.

I suspect that in the coming months, we will be in touch with one another often as we learn new ways to advocate for the policies of General Convention and the witness of the Episcopal Church in the world. I look forward to working together and to being with all of you at General Convention in 2018.


Gay Clark Jennings



Comments (8)

  1. John D. Henderson says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful commentary but I must profoundly disagree with your views. I ask you do you really think that our vetting process is adequate? There are numerous examples of tragic failures in this process, Boston?
    Was it a lie when former President Obama famously said “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”. What happened to the “middle way” of the Episcopal Church? I have not heard such fear and horror expressed about the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East. Not a word in my church about the bombing of the Coptic Christians
    Cathedral in Egypt.
    I suggest that we all step back, take a deep breath and give President Trump a chance. Sadly the overt and direct political overtones of your comments are turning away many from the Episcopal Church. You won’t hear from most of them, they just go away quietly.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      I belong to a very small suburban church in PA. So far, my church family has not been involved in the activiasm we see in the greater Episcopal Church today. I had no idea the level of political activism the Dioceses were promoting until I stumbled across this site a year ago. I’m amazed at the empathy the Church has for immigrants/refugees and how it wants to blindly allow people into our country without knowing who they are or their intent once that get here. I wish the Church had as much empathy for our homeless veterans, the many children that are aborted every year and carnage in our inner cities. What about the Christians being murdered overseas?
      I wonder how many pledging Episcopalians realize the Episcopal Church has an Office of Government Relations and an Episcopal Policy Network that is funded by our pledges via an assessment the Dioceses make against every member church. So your pledge funds the Episcopal Church’s political agenda whether you agree with it or not. I redirected my pledge away from my Church’s general fund so I no longer support the Diocese assessment. If yu are unhappy with the political a activism of the Higher Church then redirecting your pledge is a way to show it.

  2. Terry Michaelson says:

    Thank you! I too am horrified by our President. A soldier returning from Iraq was allowed in but not the translators that helped them. He said those translators would never help us again and also how could we recruit new ones to help us? These policies are impulsive and dangerous. I pray every night for God to open the heart of 45 but I fear he has no empathy and less sense.

  3. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I agree with John Henderson. It says a lot about the present hysteria that in your alleged concern for “our Muslim sisters and brothers” you make no reference whatsoever to the thousands of our true Christian brothers and sisters who have been horribly brutalized and killed in the Middle East by Muslims. For obvious reasons true Christian refugees should be given preference and I’m happy that President Trump has evidently suggested that.

  4. The Reverend Charles Caskey says:

    I am sad to read some of the comments above. I was the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in the early 80’s when this small congregation sponsored a 10 member family from Cambodia. We did not ask that they be Christian to welcome them. Over the years I have worked with parishes and other organizations to sponsor refugees that were Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and others as well. It makes no difference what country they are from because they are all God’s children. All were fully vetted as are those from these 7 countries. The President’s order is simply immoral and unconstitutional. Let us remember that Christianity has a long record of brutality that did not end with the Civil War or the Holocaust. I would like to thank the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings and all of our bishops, clergy and laity who have worked to repeal this Executive Order. Let you light shine in the darkness.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      Charles how about promoting this if you are so intent with bringing unvetted refugees into our country: How many Christians would be willing to sign a contract to take some refugees into their homes and be responsible for them much like like foster care for children. If the contract specified you must support them financially and ensure they show up for court appearances etc. In the event they “disappear” then you will pay the costs for the DHS to find them. Also you would be responsible for any destruction or mayhem as well, Check with your congregation see how many volunteers you get.

    2. Allen Rawl says:

      The United States of America is a nation of laws, as in “Law and Order”. Why doesn’t the Episcopal Diocese mention the fact that President Obama deported an all time record 2.5 million immigrants from 2009 to 2015? More than any U.S. President. We have in the past, and I am sure we will continue to welcome legal immigrants into our country. President Trump is spot-on, insisting on extremely vetting everyone who wants to come here, either to visit or to work and live here. It would be irresponsible for our president to allow the U.S. to go the way of some European and Scandinavian countries who are now paying dearly for allowing too many unvetted immigrants to enter their country. Further, the Episcopal Diocese has no business melding religion with politics, which is in direct violation of IRS rules for a non-profit organization naming a particular political act or politician in a cause, which is also morally wrong because so many people who contribute monetarily to the Church disagree with said Church’s position. Personally, I will henceforth contribute directly to my church, not to be forwarded to the Diocese.

  5. Allen Rawl says:

    Reverend Caskey. First “..the 80s” was a while before 9-11. Secondly, what you did then is certainly commendable but, as you note, the immigrants in question were fully vetted, as in legal. Who is arguing against legally, vetted immigrants? I’m all for it. I work with many immigrants, who are legal, ambitious, trustworthy, etc….. Lastly, President Trump’s executive order is not unconstitutional, in fact he is the first president for quite a while to uphold the U.S. Constitution as they all have promised to do when they took the oath. If Trump, as you say, is immoral, why not mention Obama, who deported an all time record 2.5 million illegal aliens in just 6 years?

Comments are closed.