World Refugee Day: “choosing welcome over isolation and fear”

As June 20 observance nears, General Assembly Stated Clerk urges U.S. Congress to reject executive orders restricting immigration

June 5, 2017

Photo of J. Herbert Nelson

Louisville, Ky.

As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s observance of World Refugee Day nears—June 20—Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, has sent a public letter to members of the U.S. Congress urging them to “choose welcome over isolation and fear” as they debate the country’s immigration policy. 

Specifically, Nelson asked legislators to “do everything in their power to rescind the actions of the three refugee-related presidential executive orders to prevent them from taking effect.” In his letter, Nelson outlined the PC(USA)’s long history of support for expansive immigration policies and its congregations’ ministries of welcome and outreach to immigrants to this country.

“This is a moment in our history when we can choose to be on the side of righteousness and justice,” Nelson wrote. “This is a moment when we as a nation can choose welcome.”

This letter is part of the "Letter-a-Day" campaign organized by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. Amanda Craft, manager of advocacy with the Office of the General Assembly (OGA)'s Office of Immigration Issues, stated that the campaign is "aimed to send a sustained message to members of Congress and their staff, that a wide variety of stakeholders support refugee resettlement." 

The full text of Nelson’s letter to Congress, dated June 5: 

Dear Distinguished Members of Congress:

As the Head of Communion of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations in the United States, I respectfully urge members of Congress to continue to enact compassionate legislation that protects, cares for, and defends refugees and their rights. I write you as we near World Refugee Day on June 20th, mindful that the world is experiencing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Civil war, persecution, and genocide have displaced 65 million souls from their homes, including 21 million refugees.

Presbyterians have a long history of choosing welcome over isolation and fear. At the end of World War II and the wars in Southeast Asia, we called on the U.S. to welcome refugees to our country and our government responded. We chose welcome when our very congregations served as the host sites to refugees in the years before resettlement agencies. And, Presbyterians choose welcome now as we assist families resettling to the U.S. from Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, and other countries. In 2016 alone, hundreds of congregations engaged directly with newly arriving refugees. We believe this ministry to and with our sisters and brothers in danger is essential to our calling as people of faith. This is how we extend light to those in dire circumstances. And, we stand with others who engage in this work, too. It is together that we can affect change and bring hope to those running from peril. Refugees enrich our lives as well, and we acknowledge that they also give back to our country.

In this time when the world’s sorrows are great, it is the desire of many Presbyterians to extend welcome to those seeking safety. This call to choose welcome is our faithful and compassionate remembrance that we too once “were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19, NRSV). This call comes from our history of actively assisting in refugee resettlement. We know, firsthand, that by choosing welcome, we have entertained angels (Heb. 13: 1–2, NRSV). We do not condone the anti-Muslim sentiment the current Administration has employed as a gauge of whom we should accept. We choose to welcome all sisters and brothers in need of protection and security regardless of race, creed, or nationality.

More specifically, we ask that members of Congress continue to do everything in their power to rescind the actions of the three refugee-related executive orders to prevent them from taking effect. Our desire is that the United States restore its commitment to refugee admission to the levels of more recent times with a minimum goal of 75,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2018 and to robustly support and fund the U.S. Refugee admissions and resettlement. We thank you for what Congress has already done in years past to provide safety and assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and we encourage you now to reach even further so that as citizens of the United States, we reflect an openness to continue this tradition.

As the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, I can ensure you that members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will dedicate Sundays around June 20th to refugee welcome and continue to engage in refugee ministries in their communities. As a body, members of the PC(USA) continue to engage publicly, pushing for greater support locally and nationally for refugees and refugee resettlement. By choosing welcome, we understand our commitment to also challenge any legislation that creates unjust burdens on these populations or creates greater obstacles to seeking resettlement. And may we celebrate the many gifts refugees and immigrants bring to our congregations, revealing an even deeper acknowledgement of God’s love and grace.

This is a moment in our history when we can choose to be on the side of righteousness and justice. This is a moment when we as a nation can choose welcome.

 In the faith we share,   

J. Herbert Nelson Signature


The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)   

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  1. I wonder how many of the people who disagree with this message also disagree with the lack of gun control/ the abundance of gun violence in America, the threats to health care,the lack of mental health care, the threats to the environment, etc..., currently afoot. These are a very real threat to our loved ones and the future of our children and grandchildren on this planet.

    by Catherine D.Byrd

    June 12, 2017

  2. Reverend Nelson, I believe your intentions are honorable, but you sir are in over your head. As you know, the executive orders are very targeted at high risk countries only and provide another way to help safeguard America from Islamic Terrorists. Are you also concerned about the latest terrorist victims in the UK? But the greatest concern with your letter is that once again you are pretending that PCUSA is a political organization and while doing so church membership continues to decline rapidly - do you spend any time addressing that problem? Are you doing anything to help people awaken to the Christ within? Absent a change in trend, the PCUSA will cease to exit within one generation.

    by William G Poulos

    June 9, 2017

  3. Since when has the Stated Clerk been granted the title "Head of Communion of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and what does that even mean? To advocate a particular course of action regarding U.S. national policy, and to pretend that this is the common will of the membership of the PCUSA seems to me to be bearing false witness. Who vettedand approved this letter to the members of Congress? And who served as editor? I'd be embarrassed to have this letter represent me as a Presbyterian, if only because of incorrect grammar and vocabulary: "to affect change" should read "to effect change;" "I can ensure you..." shoud read "I can assure you...." I sure hope someone gives better oversight in the future to the public documents which proceed from the pen of the Stated Clerk.

    by Mateen Elass

    June 7, 2017

  4. Agree with Dr. Wilmore. Acting as if there is no risk makes the piece look silly. The entire issue is about risk. It isn't about xenophobia or islamaphobia or being cranky. It's entirely about risk. See Tsarnaevs, San Bernardino, many of the 9-11 hijackers. The piece should admit that the risk is a price we--which is to say somebody we never heard of--may have to pay. To ignore the issue of risk makes the piece look ignorant or dishonest. It also presumes the reader and the recipient believe that this is a permanent Muslim ban instead of delay until sufficient vetting can be arranged, and that it does not apply to about 85% of Muslims in the world.

    by Richard Aubrey

    June 7, 2017

  5. Memo to the State Clerk and Mr. Wilmore: Will each of you be opening your homes and personally supporting a refugee(s) to show us by your example how we should be "welcoming?" If so, terrific! If so, please detail those "proper safeguards" that you think will protect your loved ones! If you're not going to support a refugee(s) with your own money and home, please stop telling us and our Representatives what we should be doing.

    by Donald

    June 6, 2017

  6. I strongly approve the Stated Clerk's message and support this current initiative of our church. Personally, I would include in such messages of our church regarding refugees sent to Washington and the national press, a word or two indicating our recognition of the difficult problem of terrorists seeking entrance into out country via authentic refugees. As a Reformed church we Presbyterians are not deluded about the risks of our immigration and refugee problems today, and we urge appropriate safeguards that follow the Gospel but do not contradict our basic concern for neighborliness informed by customs alertness and realism in a dangerous world.

    by Gayraud S. Wilmore. D.D

    June 6, 2017

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