Stories & Commentaries

A Call to Care for Refugees

Closing the door to refugees has never been a part of "the American way."

Welcoming them by marking them with shame and suspicion is unacceptable.

Inciting fear based on prejudice is irresponsible.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are mandated to welcome all who are seeking refuge.

Throughout the Bible God instructs humankind to welcome strangers and treat them as equals — with love, care, and respect. Furthermore, in Matthew 25, Jesus raises the bar and says we should treat strangers much better than ourselves. We are to treat them as we would treat God.

As Christians, we are called upon to act not just in word, but in deed. We are to take care of the least of these. These are the hungry, thirsty, sick, the poor, prisoners, and strangers — refugees. We are to care for them without condition.

Historically, the United States of America has welcomed strangers looking for a better life unto its shores. I myself am a stranger in your land.

I have come not seeking refuge, but to lead the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, which is part of the Christian family of churches.

Our religious community, like this country, is made rich by its diversity. In fact, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the most racially and ethnically diverse religious group in the United States.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is responding and meeting the needs of refugees internationally through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. Here in the United States, our church has an established ministry that assists refugees seeking a better life for their families. Our Refugee & Immigrant Ministries team is ready to assist refugees from any land.

I have seen the plight of the displaced first hand. In 2008, my wife and I traveled to Nakuru, Kenya, to volunteer in a camp that housed some 16,000 of the nearly 600,000 people displaced internally by the deadly violence that followed disputed elections. We provided assistance to mothers and their newborn babies. We spoke to many who shared stories of fear and spoke of their desperate struggle to survive — people looking for a better life.

During my five years as a guest in this county, I have been made to feel welcome by nearly every American I have encountered. I, however, hail from your neighbor to the north, Canada. I was not seeking refuge or escaping an unstable government, as are many who are fleeing war-torn countries to seek a better life.

The United States was built by immigrants and has always answered the call to take in those who seek refuge, security, and a better life. Emma Lazurus best describes the principle of American hospitality in her poem, "New Colossus." Her words are forever memorialized on a plaque inside the pedestal of that symbol of liberty and welcome:

“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.”

I am praying that America will not close the "golden door," to refugees from Syria or any other nation.

Make no mistake, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America unequivocally condemns the terrorist actions of extremists that claimed innocent lives in Paris, Beirut, Iraq, Mali, San Bernardino, Orlando, and other places around the world. Resorting to violence in the name of God or Allah is wrong — period! We mourn with and pray for the families of all the victims of these senseless crimes against humanity. 

We also believe that any nation has the right to protect its citizens from harm, either internally or externally. To protect citizens through careful vetting of those who wish to enter the nation is reasonable and responsible. But to deny innocent women, children, and men who are fleeing war, hunger, and disease refuge because of fear and prejudice is just as wrong.

The families who seek refuge from war-torn countries in the Middle East, whether they are Christian or Muslim, are children of God created in His image. They are our brothers and sisters and we must provide them refuge without discrimination.

This nation, if it is to follow the principles upon which it was founded, needs to heed the call to not just welcome strangers, but to love them, care for them, and protect them.

We must overcome the fear and hatred that can close the "golden door."

We must stop dividing ourselves on the basis of religious or ideological differences.

I am praying for this land and for its leaders. I am praying that the tendency to isolate ourselves will be overcome with a renewal of belief in one of the foundational principles upon which this great nation was established — to offer the possibility of a new life of hope and happiness to strangers in desperate need.

—Daniel R. Jackson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.