Chicago Bishop Jeff Lee: The Beatitudes and the Refugee Ban

Posted Jan 30, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

This morning in our congregations, we read the lyrical words of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted … Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy … Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

It is hard to square the Beatitudes or any of today’s readings with the ban on refugees that President Trump signed on Friday afternoon or with many of the other policies that the current administration in Washington is pursuing. The message at the heart of “Make America Great Again” seems to be that if you’re strong enough, powerful enough, smart enough and full enough of the right kinds of privilege, then you win. Far from acknowledging that the meek will inherit the earth, our country’s policies, after just one week, now seem to be grounded in the belief that we can assure our own safety with online bluster, threats about security walls and draconian restrictions on imagined enemies.

This insistence on sowing fear and division is dangerous fantasy and stands directly opposed to our history and our faith. Caring for refugees embodies the most deeply held Christian tenets:  that we must care for the strangers in our land and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Episcopal Church has advocated for refugees since World War II when we spoke out for Jewish refugees and others fleeing the Nazi regime. Since 1988, Episcopal Migration Ministries has helped resettle more than 50,000 refugees. Our church can do this work with confidence because the United States has the most rigorous refugee screening process in the world, involving the United Nations and five federal departments and lasting up to two years. We all want to be safe and keep our families safe. But there is no evidence that banning refugees helps us do that.

I am particularly alarmed that this refugee ban targets people from predominantly Muslim countries and includes preferences for Christian refugees. Just as the ancient people of Israel were commanded by God to welcome the non-Jewish strangers among them, Christians must resist at every turn a government policy that seems to value our lives over those of our Muslim sisters and brothers.

These are extraordinary times in this country, and as each new wave of unsettling news washes over us, Christians must remember that God is not interested in extravagant wealth or gratuitous displays of power or the illusion that demonizing others will keep us safe. God will have none of that. God asks of us only justice, mercy, and humility, and I suspect that in the coming days, we will have many occasions to exercise those values through prayer, advocacy, and protest.

Faithfully in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago