Faith says welcome strangers: Elected officials should, too

Gerald L. Mansholt and Paul D. Erickson

The United Nations now reports that more than 65 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, around 22.5 million of whom are registered as refugees. More than half of those registered as refugees are children. These are staggering numbers that are truly hard to fathom. In no time in humankind’s collective memory have so many been without a place to call home.

That’s why, in this time of great need for protection, we are saddened at our federal government’s proposal to only accept 45,000 refugees during the coming fiscal year. This number, the lowest admissions goal in U.S. history, is both deeply disappointing and dismaying to all with a shared commitment to the protection of vulnerable people, and the country we call home.

Lutherans in Wisconsin and many other people of faith and good will have a strong commitment to aiding in the resettlement of refugees in Wisconsin. People in our congregations are experienced at gathering resources and providing the support to help refugees become integrated into the life and freedom of this country.

As people of deep faith, we believe we are called to stand with the sojourner, welcome the stranger, and love our neighbors — whether they be next door or halfway across the globe. We believe we must aim to demonstrate these values in our daily life. As Lutherans, we can never forget that many of our fellow Lutherans once came to this country seeking a fresh start at life, many in desperate need, seeking safety and refuge from religious persecution and war.

Not forgetting our own roots as Americans, Lutherans continue this mission through the dedicated work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and their many partners spread throughout the country.  Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan has decades of experience in resettling refugees and supporting them with safe housing, English classes and cultural orientation, finding employment and offering a host of other services that help refugees become self-sufficient and productive members of society.

Our faith calls on us to show mercy and hospitality to those fleeing persecution. We are called to treat all those in need with dignity, respect, and love — providing the same welcome that we ourselves would hope for. Sadly, these lessons appear to have been forgotten. Our government appears to be taking actions based on fear instead of compassion.

Let’s remember, refugees are mothers, fathers and children. They are our brothers, sisters, and members of our communities and faith. Refugees around the world look to the United States as a place of hope and opportunity and freedom. When we do our part to help in refugee resettlement we are living out of the best of American values. We send a message of hope to the world.

What is more, refugees are the most vetted of any group that enters the United States. To claim that they are security threats to our community not only ignores facts, it ignores the unimaginable circumstances they have fled and needlessly stokes fear rather than cultivating compassion, truth, and understanding.

In addition, the attempt to place the reasoning of this historically low refugee admissions ceiling on the backs of asylum seekers is deeply dismaying. Our country has the resources and capability to provide protection to both refugees and those in need of asylum seeking safety from threat and harm. We have been doing so for decades and nothing has changed in our commitment to serve both. As communities rooted in faith and hope, we must reject false choices and continue serving as voices of morality and welcome.

Today’s refugees are no different from every generation who came to these shores searching for the same chance, and they are no different than our Biblical ancestors, who were once refugees themselves, in search of welcome and safety.

Years from now, future generations will ask, “Why didn’t they do more when they could?” We urge our elected leaders and the president to change course and continue to honor the legacy of welcome and hospitality that has defined our country since its founding.

Bishop Gerald L. Mansholt is bishop at East Central Synod of Wisconsin in Appleton. Rev. Paul D. Erickson is bishop at Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA in Milwaukee. 

Original article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel