Choose welcome, not fear

November 17, 2015


We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.

Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.

As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.

Our nation, for decades, has chosen hope and welcome for those fleeing war and persecution. Since 1975, more than three million refugees have found safety and security within our nation’s borders. Right now 11 million Syrians cannot go to school, tend to their land, or raise their children in the place they know as home. They cannot do these things because they, themselves, have been terrorized for far too long by numerous factions, including their own government.

Do we choose to abandon our plan to protect these Syrians because the people who have been threatening them are now threatening the West as well? ISIS has taken lives; they have taken our sense of security. Do we now hand over our hope and compassion to them?

Obviously, we need to move forward with a disciplined response, expediting security checks such as those employed by the U.S. refugee admission program. To refuse certain persons who are fleeing terror and persecution because they are “Syrian” or of some other particular ethnic group is unjust and may be illegal under U.S. law. We can be disciplined and, at the same time, led to love beyond our own limited, fearful vision.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples hid in fear. They locked the doors but God had another plan. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). We were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion.  Author, poet, and peace activist Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth,” p. 99). The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.

두려움이 아니라, 환영을 선택하자

Elige dar la bienvenida, no el temor

  1. The Tsarnaev clan was handed to the FBI by Russian intel. Bad news, they said. The feds couldn't find anything wrong. The San Bernardino shooters were vetted, but there were obvious falsehoods in their paperwork which a network, I think it was ABC, discovered after a day of looking. Taharrush. Learn it, love it, because you're going to be living it.

    by Richard Aubrey

    January 17, 2016

  2. Thank you Doug Reed for your sensible comments. We need to be confident in the government's vetting process and we've already seen some of the agencies admitting that the government is not as up to speed as it needs to be in this area. But, as for mindlessly opening our doors, I am not so sure that that's not what is being called for. I've not seen where the clerk has called for anything other than opening our homes. There needs to be a common sense approach.

    by Sims Propst'

    December 12, 2015

  3. The straits some of the innocents of the ME find themselves in is indeed heartrending. Of particular concern to me are the Christians of the ME. So far, the number of Christians granted refugee status or asylum is not representative of their numbers. As you may know, refugees are drawn primarily from UN refugee camps. Christians are not safe in these camps, hence avoid them. Nor are they safe among the streams of refugees entering Europe. I think it behooves us to, yes, tighten the vetting process which the FBI admits is less than stellar, but also to compel those selecting refugees for emigration to seek out Christians and those of other minority faiths outside of the camps perhaps even setting up separate camps for such people. The Christian Syrians and Iraqis (and others) are more easily vetted since they have trustworthy faith communities to vouch for them. There are thousands of them. In addition, the PC(USA) should be in the forefront of the battle to provide relief to the Chaldeans in San Diego who made the mistake of not properly filling out their forms after entering the US from Mexico. They're being deported - to where? Back to the ME? Back to Germany which they passed through on the way here? It's crazy that the government, which is spotting largely unvetted (by its own admission) refugees around the US, would deny refuge to these persecuted Christians who are of zero risk and who have established communities to welcome them.

    by Paul Wescott

    November 20, 2015

  4. Jesus' command to welcome strangers is pretty clear, uncomfortable though it may be. We can still conduct more stringent security checks on everyone who wishes to enter the US. But I uderstand that most, if not all, of the perpetrators in Paris were European nationals, so security measures must include everyone, not just Syrians who are fleeing their homeland for their lives!

    by Peg Miller Taylor

    November 20, 2015

  5. Just a friendly reminder, you left Nigeria and Kenya out of your condolences. Anyway, thank you for this.

    by jolie

    November 20, 2015

  6. A good dose of fear and caution is what is needed at this time. The safety and sovereignty of our country needs to be first and foremost in our minds. I am fine with your compassion until it becomes an act of foolishness.

    by Jim

    November 20, 2015

  7. Thanks to Grady for articulating so well what needs to be said.

    by Lou Knowles

    November 20, 2015

  8. Thank you, Doug Reed. All, including Gradye Parsons, would do well to re-read your common sense approach to this troubling situation

    by Jim

    November 20, 2015

  9. Thank you for faithful and wise counsel. Let us live by faith rather than by fear.

    by Keith Barber

    November 18, 2015

  10. Doug Reed - well said. There is no way to properly scrutinize the backgrounds of these "refugees." Passports are being forged at alarming rates, and there is no certain way to know if the person is who they claim to be. I am not naive. Protecting our country is not from a position of fear but good sense. Personally, the actions of the terrorists do not make me fearful. They make me pray - pray to our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is our Hope and Salvation. Frankly, I'm more concerned that one person, even the Stated Clerk, can issue a statement and speak as the voice of the PCUSA in such a politically-biased manner. Our denomination continues to send me to prayer.

    by Linda Palmer

    November 18, 2015

  11. Thank you, Gradye, for your thoughtful and compassionate response. This is in the finest tradition of the Presbyterian Church over the years. John Calvin would be proud! Mary Ann and Don

    by Mary Ann Lundy and Donald J. Wilson

    November 18, 2015

  12. I am concerned that Christian Syrians (and other religious minorities) are underrepresented in terms of those granted asylum in the U.S. and elsewhere. Given that these religious minorities are some of the most persecuted and threatened of all Syrians, one wonders why disproportionate relief is afforded adult Muslim men. It is not racist or un-Christian to ask these questions.

    by Todd

    November 18, 2015

  13. I am grateful that we have a Stated Clerk who speaks up at a time such as this and reminds us that biblical faith calls us not to become paralysed by fear but to live in such a way that we exhibit hope. Peace is built upon trust and understanding rather than security measures, and trust requires taking risks as well.

    by Doug Baker

    November 18, 2015

  14. Yes, there need to be safeguards for all who seek political asylum as we have done in the past. It will not be easy for them to get here but let us at least invite them.

    by Christine

    November 18, 2015

  15. I am so thankful to be a part of the PCUSA family that seeks to follow the guidance of our Lord by following his instructions. Jesus clearly said that we should welcome the strangers in our land and I don't think there has ever been a clearer example of this opportunity. I had a really inspirational pastor years ago who said that if we want to live our faith, we have to get our hands dirty , ie, do things outside our comfort zone and do things to help the least of these. Welcome the refugees.

    by Ellis W. Jenkins

    November 18, 2015

  16. Amen and Amen, Gradye Parsons. Thank you for this message! Fear hurts us. Hope endures forever!

    by Margaret Elliott

    November 17, 2015

  17. Thank you for this!

    by Vik Schaaf

    November 17, 2015

  18. For over ten years my late wife worked as a sponsor developer for SOAR (Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees) here in Portland. She was able to bring over 6,600 refugees from many places in the world who have become contributing members of our society because they were given hope and acceptance.

    by Bud Frimoth

    November 17, 2015

  19. "To welcome the stranger and to care for the widow" What's so hard about that?

    by Andy Sale

    November 17, 2015

  20. America will welcome in thousands of immigrants next year. If any of them are Syrians, the US government has a special obligation to vet them so thoroughly that it can have extremely high confidence no wolves slipped in with the sheep. The way to stop terror in the short term is to deal with it head on--robust intelligence and effective defensive measures. The possibility for deterring terrorist actions by "proving the terrorists are wrong" is exactly, precisely zero. And hope is not a plan, nor a defense. Tome Walters Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret) Ruling Elder First Presbyterian Church Seguin, Texas

    by Tome Walters

    November 17, 2015

  21. No one is saying that we should "mindlessly open [your] home to thousands of sheep, some of whom are wolves". Refugees are carefully vetted. Many of those who are caught in this are children. ISIS is taking children as young as 3 and putting them in classes to learn how to use grenades, kill people, and even torture people. Saving them from this fate is protecting ourselves in the future by giving them fewer soldiers.

    by Ian R Wright

    November 17, 2015

  22. Is it possible to be both tenderhearted AND smart about your safety? Yes it is. On the one hand, closing the door in the face of people in need is hardhearted. On the other hand, taking all the locks off of your doors and welcoming in everyone with no questions asked is suicidal negligence. My faith calls on me to be innocent as a dove and smart as a snake. If it is possible to help people in need without needlessly exposing my family to danger at the hands of those who have been possessed with hatred and the desire to kill me, you, your spouse and your children, then do it. The United States has ample resources to safely care for people in need. This can be done in many inventive and smart ways. We should do so. But don't question my faith as a Christian because I don't want to mindlessly open my home to thousands of sheep, some of whom are wolves. The most effective way to help people in need is to be there for them not just today, but tomorrow and the next day. We have been gifted with hearts AND heads. God wants us to use them both.

    by Doug Reed

    November 17, 2015

  23. We, as a country, and in representation of all this country stands for, need to do the right thing. Extend a hand to our brothers and give them the hope of a better life. That is what this country was founded upon.

    by Bill Sawdy

    November 17, 2015