Other Voices

Clergy: Our holy books say we should welcome refugees

Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy on Sept. 10 after crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy on Sept. 10 after crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. AP

From the upper floors of Freedom Tower, erected where the World Trade Center towers once stood, you can see the Statue of Liberty.

The new Tower, 1,776 feet tall, proclaims that although evil people murder innocents, Americans refuse to be intimidated, refuse to cower in fear before terrorists.

Most Americans are familiar with the words of poet Emma Lazarus that, more than a century ago, our nation proudly inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

The statue greeted millions of immigrants arriving in America through nearby Ellis Island. The poem’s climax says:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

In that spirit, and in the name of our Judeo-Christian religious traditions in which American ideals are rooted, we are saddened and even shocked by the callous position that Gov. Greg Abbott and many other politicians across the nation have taken against receiving any refugees from Syria.

Syrian refugees are predominantly ordinary people caught in the crossfire between rival armies and terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

Perhaps most shocking of all, uncounted thousands of Syrians have been bombed and gassed by their own government. Millions have fled the country.

As a matter of conscience and American humanitarian tradition, we believe that our country should participate with other nations in receiving a share of this latest “homeless, tempest-tossed” group.

We understand, especially in the wake of the bloody attacks on innocent people in Paris, that many are fearful.

But we also know that President Obama and his administration have pledged to continue investigating each and every Syrian refugee before granting asylum.

We are not throwing open the doors of our country. It takes 18 months to two years for refugees to be approved.

People worried about further terrorist strikes in the U.S. after 9-11, too. To the credit of police and security forces, there have been remarkably few incidents.

Absolute security is unattainable. But if we turn our back on those in need, the terrorists win.

What might the command of God be at such a moment?

In the Hebrew Bible God commands time and again, “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19) and sometimes explains further, “for you know the heart of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

In the New Testament, Jesus praises the righteous for showing him compassion when he was hungry and thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-6).

They ask when they did that, and he answers, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

We Americans, mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants ourselves, should share this moral imperative.

We believe these are the values that should motivate our nation.

We condemn the rising tide of intolerance directed at Muslims. The overwhelming majority of our Muslim neighbors are good people and no less horrified than we are by extremist atrocities.

Our traditions teach that we are all in the image of God. All of us, no exceptions. Our faiths have no tolerance for judging an entire religion by the acts of extremists.

Fear makes us forget who we are, the children of God.

Let us reawaken our best selves, those selves that recognize the God in one another.

Let us welcome the stranger, for by doing so we are welcoming the image of God.

Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger leads Beth-El Congregation. In this opinion, he is joined by Rev. Dr. Warner Bailey, St. Stephen Presbyterian Church; Rev. James Barber, Brite Divinity School; Rev. Terry Boggs, Cook Children’s Medical Center; Rev. Tim Bruster, First United Methodist Church; Rev. Erik Gronberg, Trinity Lutheran Church; Rev. Carlye Hughes, Trinity Episcopal Church; Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Pastors for Texas Children; Rev. Kendra Mohn, Trinity Lutheran Church; Rev. Tom Plumbley, First Christian Church; Rev. Gayland Pool, St. Francis Episcopal Church; Rev. Dr. Nancy Ramsay, Brite Divinity School; Rev. Craig Roshaven, Unitarian Universalist, retired; Rev. Karl Travis, First Presbyterian Church; Rev. Melinda Veatch, Tarrant Churches Together; Dr. Ed Waggoner, Brite Divinity School; and Rev. Janet Waggoner, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.