Episcopal Church bishops challenge Trump, Congress on DACA in NYTimes ad

By Mary Frances Schjonberg and Amy Sowder
Posted Sep 21, 2017

[Episcopal News Service] Some 125 Episcopal Church bishops signed a full-page ad that ran Sept. 21 in the New York Times, imploring President Donald Trump and member of Congress not to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program known as DACA.

“To do so would endanger the lives of thousands of young people and their families and run contrary to the faith and moral traditions of our country,” wrote 122 bishops, along with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, 26th Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and 25th Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. “It is unfair to threaten the well-being of young people who arrived in our country as children through no choice of their own.”

The Rev. Richard Witt, executive director of Rural & Migrant Ministries, brought the idea to the Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of the Diocese of Long Island. His diocese is among, if not, the most diverse in the church, in part because Queens, New York is the most diverse county in nation.

“The prayer book is in 13 different languages in our diocese,” Provenzano told Episcopal News Service. “This is in defense of the people in our pews and in our neighborhoods.”

Starting with Witt and Provenzano, then adding three other bishops, they organized the declaration and after Curry agreed, they sent an email through their list serve to all bishops with a deadline to sign on. It’s unclear the reason some bishops didn’t sign the statement, but if it wasn’t about avoiding controversy, it could have been as simple as not noticing the email in time to make the deadline.

“I heard from bishops up until Tuesday morning, and it was submitted to the New York Times Tuesday (Sept. 19) afternoon,” said Denise Fillion, Long Island’s diocesan director of communications. Fillion helped with the final edits on the ad.

The bishops said ending DACA without a similar replacement program would force so-called “Dreamers” to “face the future in this country with little access to education and employment, and ultimately, could very well lead to sending them to countries where they did not grow up, have few support structures, may not even speak the language and may be vulnerable to violence and persecution.”

“Any of these scenarios, we believe, is cruel,” the bishops wrote.

The administration announced Sept. 5 that it would phase out the DACA policy, giving Congress six months to act legislatively to save the program that allowed qualifying undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country.

President Barack Obama instituted DACA in June 2012 by executive action, giving so-called “Dreamers” the ability to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for work permits.

Naysayers might call this is another example of Episcopalians entering into politics too much, said Provenzano. It’s not about politics, although this public stance has “significant implications,” he said.

“At times, the teaching and preaching of the gospel can look like it’s making a political statement when it’s really about following the teachings of Jesus. This is what bishops are supposed to do. This is nuts and bolts,” Provenzano said. “It’s not a debatable issue. The kind of protectionism being promulgated in this country is contrary to the gospel.”

The Episcopal Church’s presiding officers, Curry and House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, issued a statement after the Trump administration’s announcement, vowing to work for immigration reform and to support Dreamers.

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, as well as its Episcopal Public Policy Network, has long been engaged in advocacy for “a humane and proportional immigration system,” based on the General Convention’s stance on the issues involved. The office has a collection of resources for advocacy and action on immigration policy, as well as information on current policies and proposed legislation.

“In recent years, our congregations throughout the United States have witnessed firsthand the benefits that the young ‘Dreamers’ have brought to our community programs and life,” the bishops wrote. “We have been inspired by, and gained much from, their American spirit. We urge you to enact permanent, meaningful legislation that will protect ‘Dreamers’ and enable these young people to remain a part of our country — which is also theirs.”

The complete text of the ad is here.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service, as well as a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.



Comments (30)

  1. M. J. Wise says:

    DACA is a sad illustration of the danger of relying on the executive branch for immigration policy change. All it took was one unfavorable administration change and the whole thing came clattering down (not that the judicial branch was going to let it linger much longer anyway). Just one of many checks Barack Obama wrote that bounced in the end, probably deluded into thinking he had created the perpetual Democratic presidency and that he had made Congress obsolete. I feel bad for the people who were induced into revealing their information to immigration authorities for nought.

    1. Norman Hutchinson says:

      Selective memory of even recent history may be conforming for those selecting those items that fit their world view; but they are seldom accurate. It is important to remember that that a majority of legislators in the Republican party vowed to obstruct ANYTHING that President Obama proposed and we’re often successful in those attempts. Therefor the President used what tools he had at his disposal to do the right, moral, and humane thing, in this case his executive order for DACA. His objective was not to make “… Congress obsolete” it was to exercise the Jewish / Christian ethic of welcoming and caring for the foreigners in our land (although the Dreamers are foreigners only in a legal context). The Dreamers are really the children of this country, and when have we started rejecting our children?

      1. Norman Hutchinson says:

        The word in the first sentence above was ment to be comforting, not conforming and later another word should have been were not we’re. I really do like spell checkers most of the time. 🙂

      2. M. J. Wise says:

        > it was to exercise the Jewish / Christian ethic of welcoming and caring for the foreigners in our land (although the Dreamers are foreigners only in a legal context).

        Of course, as Episcopalians, it is always our duty to welcome all. I certainly would turn tail on any church where I was asked for my papers, and I’m sure you would too. But, as Thomas Jefferson once said (more or less), the United States Government is not based, modeled, or founded upon, in any sense, the Christian religion. Given that official disestablishment nearly killed the Episcopal Church, I would think an Episcopalian would be first to realize that. Mr. Obama induced immigrants who he knew were not here legally to reveal detailed information to immigration authorities with promises he could not keep and, frankly, should have known he could not keep. Shame on him and those who cheered on such an unprudential and irresponsible scheme.

      3. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

        It was not an Executive Order, it was a Memo to Homeland Security. No matter what you call it, it was Executive Overreach by Obama.

  2. Richard Basta says:

    I am confused. Is the bishop of long island declaring that the merits of immigration policies should not be debated by the American people, or that the church’s right to weigh in on such matters should not be debated? Maybe I read his statement out of context. It’s possible.

  3. Donald w. Mudra says:

    If we do nothing, the Church, itself, will be in trouble.

  4. David Horwath says:

    Perhaps Bishop Provenzano should start by asking himself why the Diocese of Long Island has had a 27% drop in Average Sunday Attendance. Perhaps the Bishop should concentrate on his own flock rather than impose his cultural views and thought police on the rest of us.

  5. Susan Russell says:

    Proud of bishops taking their leadership on this important issue into the public arena … an awesome antidote to the increasing irrelevance of the church to the world. (See also attendance figures noted above.)

    As for the “stay out of politics” critique … this isn’t politics in the partisan sense — which we should stay out of. This is preaching the political implications of an ancient imperative of our historic faith. Need proof texts? Gotcha covered:

    Exodus 22:21
    You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

    Exodus 23:9
    You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

    Leviticus 19:33
    When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.

    Leviticus 24:22
    You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God.

    Numbers 15:16
    You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.

    Deuteronomy 1:16
    I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.

    Deuteronomy 24:20-21
    When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

    Deuteronomy 27:19
    “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

    Jeremiah 7:4-12
    Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”
    For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

    Zechariah 7:10
    Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.

    Malachi 3:5
    Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

    1. Kenneth Knapp says:

      You should be careful with OT proof texts. You might not like everything that the OT “proves.”

  6. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    I see our pews thinning out even more. We are a country of laws, we have a Congress, not a dictator. Trump did right by reversing an illegal executive memo and sending DACA to Congress. If Obama would have taken that route this wouldn’t be happening now. The 5th Circuit, as well as the US Supreme Court, would have struck Obama’s memo down as unconstitutional and the DACA kids would be deported. Trump actually gave them a second chance. Susan be careful quoting scripture out of historic context to make a point, it may come back and bite you.

    1. Charles B. Allen II says:

      It would seem my church of seventy-seven years has once again crossed the line of the broad interpretation of Jesus saying ” Render unto Caesar those things which are Caesar’s…….”. This statement was surely meant to signify the separation between the provincial authorities of Church and State. Would the Church be tolerant and understanding if the Federal Government began weighing in on the policies of the Episcopal Church? I rather doubt it.

  7. Kenneth Knapp says:

    To quote Walter Russell Mead from the Feb 2010 issue of the American Interest: “Episcopalians are a tiny minority of the population and the church long ago lost its social power and cachet. The Episcopal church today is in the worst condition it has been since the aftermath of the Revolution; its clergy has visibly failed to keep the church together or prevent its ongoing decline. I’m afraid that the penchant to make political pronouncements proceeds less from a true prophetic vocation than from a nostalgia for a time when it mattered what Episcopal bishops thought. In any case, there is nothing more ridiculous than a proprietor of a failing concern who officiously lectures everyone else on how to manage their affairs. Please, for the sake of what remains of the dignity of your office, give it a rest.”

  8. We need to protect our Dreamers, first of all, because they are children of God… They are also very valuable members of our American society who are seeking to study, work, and better themselves and our society. Thanks to our Bishops for speaking out about DACA and for calling our elected officials to act justly.

    1. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

      The Nazis were “children of God” as well. Beware of the trap you are walking into. These type arguments do nothing but divide. I would suggest you admonish people to follow the laws and obey them. Our laws are what wholes us together. You should have spoke up when Obama sent the DACA Memo to Homeland Security and bypassed Congress. Don’t tell me you care about the Dreamers if you kept silent.

  9. The Reverend Canon Susan Russell says:

    PS — Abd then there’s Matthew 25:40. For what it’s worth.

  10. ¡Me enorgullece ser Episcopal! Nuestros obispos siguen las acciones de Jesús: abogar por las personas marginadas aún cuando la sociedad crítica sus acciones. El gesto no es para hacerse popular, sino para demostrar lo que es ser verdaderamente cristiano/a según los evangelios y las acciones de Jesucristo. ¡Bravo y bendiciones!

    Stories like this make me an even prouder Episcopalian. Our Bishops are following the actions of our Lord: to advocate for marginalized peoples despite the criticism from religious and secular society. Their support is not to win a popularity contest, it is a demonstration of the Christian values that Jesus taught in the Gospels through his own actions. People of limited Christian understanding may call the bishop’s statement political, I invite you to study the Gospels with a prayerful mind and heart, their response is an act of Christian justice. Our Bishops are indeed following Christ’s mandate, all Christians must do the same. Bravo bishops!

    1. The Very Reverend Tom Callard says:

      Do not fear. The death of the Episcopal Church will not come because our Bishops are taking a stand on something “political.” The death of the Episcopal Church and Christianity as a whole will come when we stop actively, courageously caring for people and retreat to the sanctity of our pews and leave the politicizing to those driven to divide and cast the weak out. Our Bishops know whose they are: heirs in baptism of the King of Kings who sought to bring people together and who envisioned a place at the table for all. Our work to protect the young people covered by DACA secures our place along with others in history who made it possible for slavery to end and women to vote. “The Lord is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear?” Ps. 27:1

      1. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

        The death of the Episcopal Church will come when its members walk out.

    2. The Rev. Dr. Albert Cutie says:


  11. Lorenzo Lebrija says:

    Jesus stood with the marginalized then the church, the body of Christ stands with the marginalized now. GRACIAS, bishops for leading the way to be Christ in the world.

  12. DACA is one of those signs of hope that we need to celebrate, especially when lives are changed and new opportunities are created for our New Generation Latin@. I have witnessed this change in action and the benefits of a life fully changed and engaged in the political and social conversations that we are invited to attend. President Obama felt the need to do something to get the conversation started. I appreciate the statement on DACA from our bishops. I hope their words are followed now by parish / conversation level conversations on what it means to give hope to someone. Let us stay at the table and continue with this effort.

  13. Doug Desper says:

    The activism to preserve DACA seems like talking points in need of an issue. Trump and the Congress have all stated that people will not be displaced who are here actually living according to DACA and immigration expectations: job/school, gainful, crime-free, etc. The 6 month period to write a durable law to take the place of a dictate has to occur. Do people ever read the Constitution or our laws before opening up their cans of perpetual outrage?

  14. Bishop Joel Marcus Johnson, Ret'd. says:

    Two concepts are disappearing from the American, and I fear religious, moral ethos. First is the principle of refuge, of accepting persons, and their children, who have fled the prospect of death or ruin in their native lands. Second is mere history, especially those chapters in which this nation has precipitated horrors in Central America causing such refugees to flee. Considering that the vast majority of DACA candidates are from these nations, let us review those chapters in which for the sake of cheap bananas in mid-century and later cheap illegal drugs, the United States in the former instance walked in lock step with those dictatorships, and in the latter our permissiveness has ruined countless millions of Central American families of their lands and homes, not to mention our own domestic drug crisis. Much of my vocation has been dedicated to assisting such refugees in the sacramental life of the Church, so that I am most intimate to their life stories in the real as opposed to abstract sense. We make hypocrites of ourselves when at Christmas we sing “Jesus our brother, kind and good,” but then make an orphan of the Holy Infant the day after, that is, refusing to bless those others like Him, also “born in a stable rude.” And so I say Amen with the brother bishops of The Episcopal Church.

  15. Kjell Johansen says:

    Speaking out on issues of the day is a long Christian tradition. The conservatives do it all the time. Pat Robertson, Jim Baker, and that ilk. As for quoting the Bible, the conservative have not problem in selectively using Scripture to back many of their brand of Christianity. About 2000 years ago, a wise Jewish person was asked what the two most important statements were in the Torah, he replied, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. Then he added, everything else is commentary.

  16. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    These Episcopal Bishops are like the band playing on as the Titanic sunk. Very sad.

  17. Dn. Dorothy Royal says:

    Separation of church and state.

  18. Ernie Hammel says:

    We would not have a DACA problem if those in the congress who believe in open borders would change the laws with regards to immigration. Why does not the dem leadership propose bills to eliminate our current immigration laws and allow those who want to come here immediate admission? This is what they believe and what is in their hearts. Answer is that the dems know that they would not get re-elected. Most real Americans need and want immigration laws that all civilized nations have including mexico. The dems in congress know that they can’t push their agenda into law cuz they won’t get re-elected.

  19. Liz Benage says:

    DACA was against the law. The Executive branch of our government enforces the law. Pres. Obama couldn’t get the Congress to make law concerning DACA so Pesident Obama made the law. President Trump has given Congress 6 months to come up with legislation for the Dreamers. Not throw them out of the country. We shall see what happens, but President Trump has done what is within his power under the law. CHECK the school districts in your area. Are they teaching Civics? For those who may not know, because it hasn’t been taught for a while, Civics was a requirement to graduate from High School!! Civics is the study of how our government works. I’d be willing to bet that it is NOT being taught, nor is it a requirement. There are good teachers out there , like my husband, but there are teachers who want to dumb down our children’s education. Pay attention. It is our future here. Yes, we need to help people, but without borders and law it is Chaos.

  20. Jeannette Giese says:

    President Trump is doing the right thing. He is forcing Congress to act and work within our laws to help these DACA children become U.S. citizens.

Comments are closed.