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