The Irish political philosopher, Edmund Burke, is often quoted as saying: “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I believe what we hear in the rhetoric of political candidates and other pundits is truly evil. When we are willing to accept words and actions of hatred toward our fellow human beings, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, we are participating in evil. And when we hear and see these words and actions coming from those who profess to follow Jesus, I am utterly confused. Aren’t we reading the same Gospel in which our Lord tells us to “love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us” (Matt.5:44, NRSV), and “’you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV). And then how do we explain Jesus’ words here?
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31 – 40, NRSV).
I can’t help but be reminded of two historical periods when similar fear-mongering led to similarly evil rhetoric and horrendous massacre. Following World War I, Germany was in a weakened condition bowed low with reparations, territorial realignments, military restrictions and government mandates of the Treaty of Versailles. They were a beaten, fearful people. The climate was ripe for the rise of a political figure who promised better times and a stronger nation. Blindly, so many followed. We know the story. The result was the extermination of 6 million Jews as well as thousands of others seen as unfit and unwelcome. We look back on this dark period of human history and recognize as heroes those who fled their homeland and those who worked to hide and shelter those that couldn’t leave.
Go back even further in history and we have a king fearful for his kingdom who slaughtered every Jewish child under the age of two in an attempt to prevent one tiny babe from usurping this leader’s control. The parents of this child fled their homeland as refugees to keep their son safe. And, of course, you recognize this story as the one we will celebrate this month, the birth of Jesus. And celebrate we will – but we must also remember the massacre of those other children whose lives had no value to powerful Herod.
In the last few months, I’ve participated in many webinars that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) has sponsored with Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) and I’ve learned so much about the plight of the Syrian refugees right now. During Tuesday’s Advent Advocacy webinar, Allison Duvall, manager for Church Relations and Engagement for EMM, shared a Gathering Reflection. I felt her passion and frustration in her words:
My friends, our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters are being attacked – verbally, physically. Their houses of worship are being targeted. Fear, misinformation, and prejudice are running wild. Political candidates have been fanning the flames of fear, stoking skepticism and suspicion. Language that was once considered the territory of only the most extreme right-wing groups, that was once only used by groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes as ‘hate groups,’ is now commonly heard from the mouths of those running for political office. It is, simply, terrifying.
And, it does not take much imagination or work to replace “Muslim” with “Jew” in many of these statements, and to see in the re-worked phrase horrific mirror images of the language of the Nazi Party in 1930’s Europe…. Which, you may know, is when the Episcopal Church began its refugee ministry, welcoming to the US the victims of Nazi persecution as they fled for their lives.
Imagine what it must be like for a Syrian family who has just arrived in the United States through the resettlement program. They were witness to the destruction of their town, of their country. With millions of others, they fled – to avoid forcible conscription into Assad’s army, to flee the encroaching violent extremists who torture and execute all those who do not join their ranks, pay their ransoms, and support their evil. They registered with the United Nations, were referred to the United States for resettlement, and began the years’ long process to come to the United States. Interview after interview, security check after security check, on nearly endless repeat. Finally, after medical screenings and cultural orientation, they were cleared to travel. And they arrived, in this new land, no longer fearing for their lives and their children’s futures.
But they’ve been met, in this new American home, with fear, with misinformation and lies being told about them, with skepticism about the way they look. This was not what they thought America was – a land of freedom, a land of promise and opportunity. A land founded by those seeking religious freedom, and fleeing persecution for their faith.
What’s happening to us as a people?
I’ve thought a lot in recent days about what our refugee brothers and sisters must experience when they arrive in the United States. Imagine being forced to flee everything you know, everything that is familiar, everything that is home. Imagine the disorientation – the sense of loss and grief, even as you step into a world of possibility and hope. I’ve thought a lot about what kind of welcome they receive when they get here.
Are you wondering the same thing right now? I am. I can’t imagine how frightening this all must be to them.
When I started writing the Nuts and Bolts Blog, I asked many of you what exactly you wanted from the Resolution Review Committee. How could we, as a diocese, take the work done at our various conventions and give them feet and hands and voice? Almost without exception, you said “Give us something to do. Tell us how to take action.” In the last few months, I’ve shared many actions that you and your congregations can do to get involved and to support refugee advocacy. If you haven’t taken the opportunity, this is the time. We must silence the voices of hatred with voices of love and welcome. We must come alongside those neighbors who have recently arrived in this “land of freedom and opportunity” and offer them friendship and protection. We must demonstrate that the freedoms about which we boast are for all people.
If you are a regular reader of the blog, I realize that I am likely “preaching to the choir” and I am grateful for all that you have already done to advocate for continued refugee resettlement. Thank you so much. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians “Let us not grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9a, NRSV). There is still much to be done. As good people, let us work together that evil may not triumph.
I wish you a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas!
— The Rev. Deacon Judith Schellhammer