House of Deputies

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 2x4 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.

Faithfully,

Gay Clark Jennings, President