Last week I joined a group of 30+ ELCA Bishops, and advocates from the ELCA and LCMS and LIRS to meet with members of Congress on issues related to refugees and immigrants. Part of a visit to Washington DC, if you are a Montanan, is the Wednesday morning Coffee with the Montana Senators. While at the Coffee, I met many other Montanans. Some were there to lobby for their cause, others were there to be tourists and see the cherry blossoms. I ran into people from our congregations, board members of camps, old friends. And as I told people why I was there—to speak on behalf of refugees—I discovered a lot of sympathetic Montanans in that group.
We were asking our Senators for 2 things: The first is welcome. Historically, the United States has been a leader in protecting the most vulnerable. Ours is a country built with immigrants and refugees. As people of faith we are called to welcome the stranger. Lutherans have been involved in resettling refugees since 1939, and we work closely with the US Government, who provide security checks for all refugees.
We are asking the Senators to expand the number of refugees in 2017 to 75,000, up from the 50,000 requested by the Administration. (In 2016, there were 85,000 refugees resettled in the United States.) There are over 65 million displaced people in the world today—the highest number since World War II. Over 21 million are registered refugees.
The second thing we are asking is for protection. We are asking our representatives to support compassionate policies that provide immediate protection for Central American children and families, and faithful solutions to the conditions that cause people to flee. Children and families from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras continue to flee from their homes because of violence and persecution.
We are asking our representatives to stand against legislation intended to deter people from seeking protection in the United States, and we are asking them to stand against policies that separate children from their families. We ask for policies that help protect families in Central America, addressing the root causes of forced migration. And we ask for non-punitive hospitality when they do arrive.
This is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of faith. In Washington, DC, we were joined by other Christians, Jews and Muslims advocating for protection and humane treatment for people who are forced to flee their homes.
We have a deep scriptural tradition that calls us to welcome and protect. The ELCA AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) program (www.elca.org/AMMPARO) has put together a 40 day set of scripture readings that highlight care of the stranger. I encourage you to make this part of your Easter devotions—from Easter to Pentecost! You can find it here.
There are many ways that we can help refugees, in addition to advocating with our governmental leaders. Several communities are working with organizations to be prepared to do refugee resettlement. Your congregation can also become a Welcoming Congregation (www.elca.org/resources/AMMPARO). And you can get involved with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (www.lirs.org).
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA