On Monday, June 26, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion on President Trump’s travel ban. This was mostly good news for the President but understanding what the court decided and how people of faith can respond is important. Here are 3 helpful ways for people of faith to engage the travel ban decision.
First, remember the past.
I want to briefly examine the past in relation to the court case before more intentionally remembering the past as a nation and as the people of God.
The history of the travel ban court cases
For more on the initial travel ban read my blog – Why should I care about the refugee ban?
The fourth circuit case involves a lawful permanent resident whose Iranian wife would be barred from entering the United States. The ninth circuit case involves the State of Hawaii arguing students would be prevented from attending universities in the state and an American citizen whose Syrian mother-in-law is seeking entry into the country.
The fourth circuit ruled primarily based on violation of the establishment clause, believing the Executive Order was a ‘Muslim ban’ unconstitutionally targeting one faith. The ninth circuit went further and found the Executive Order exceeded the powers of the President set forth in the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
The history of America
Apart from the court decisions and wrangling over separation of powers, lies a deeper question of who we are as a nation. Are we nationalist? Our history is marred with bouts of nationalism where we have withdrawn from the world and determined we were superior to other nations and people. Are we exceptionalist? Most of our history is imbued with a belief that America is different from other nations and that with wealth, power and position comes global responsibility.
We are celebrating our independence on July 4th. Part of this celebration is rooted in the ideal that “all men are created equal”. We pledge ourselves to “liberty and justice for all”. We hold our statue of liberty up as an ideal representation of our serving as a light to the nations.
“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.” Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus
Do we welcome the stranger? My grandfather left Norway after World War I. He crossed the ocean and wept when he saw the Statue of Liberty. My grandmother also left Norway. They met in Logan Square which was at that time a Scandinavian community. They worked hard, lived in the basement of a church as they cleaned the church so that one day their son could preach from a pulpit of a church. I think that is America. Most of us have immigrant or refugee stories in our past that are worth remembering.
The history of Christianity
My friend Matt Soerens is pictured above from his timely talk on refugees at our Restore 117 conference. Jesus was a refugee fleeing the slaughter of innocent children by Herod. Scripture is replete with stories of refugees and immigrants. God loves and cares for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. His word commands us to do the same (Dt. 10:17-19; Ps. 146:9; Zech. 7:9-10; Jer. 22:3; Mal. 3:5).
We are called to be a people on a great commission to share the hope of Christ with the world. Yet only 35% of white evangelicals in the US say they personally know a Muslim, and even fewer know a Hindu or Buddhist. Among people of non-Christian religious traditions in North America – most of them refugees or other immigrants – 60% say they do not personally know a Christian.
“Something is missionally malignant whenever we are willing to make great sacrifices to travel the world to reach a people group but are not willing to walk across the street.” Dr. J.D. Payne, The Church at Brook Hills (AL)
Second, understand the present.
The Supreme Court unanimously lifted part of the travel ban. Three justices would have lifted the entire ban. Those three judges were certain the court would find Trump’s travel ban constitutional when they hear arguments in October so criticized others for not simply ruling now. The remaining six wanted a new issue argued as to whether the challenges to a 90 day window from March have expired and so part of the ban is now moot. That aside it appears likely the court will uphold the ban.
At present individuals from six countries with no ties to the United States are banned from entry. The court specifically upheld the injunction to allow “close family” members to enter the country. Both the Iranian wife and Syrian mother-in-law qualify. Additionally the court upheld the injunction to allow those with a bona fide relationship with an entity to enter the United States. That includes the students attending University in Hawaii.
While the relationship test did not include fiances, President Trump changed his position Thursday night as the ban was going into effect. So “close family” now includes parent (including in-laws), spouse, child, adult son or daughter (including in-laws), siblings (including half-siblings) and fiances. Entities include schools and employers, not not for profit assistance agencies.
Our present opportunity in America
As a nation we must decide who we are. Are we people of fear and hate or are we people who welcome others. The world is watching. America’s roll on the world stage is changing dramatically. Our rhetoric grows ever harsher. Fear grows ever stronger. In perilous times we should remember the words of another president, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.
We also must as a nation stop equating fear-filled propaganda over social media, the internet or cable news to be viewed as objective facts. We have to reclaim truth. There are facts. We can – and should – debate policies but we are losing our ability to acknowledge facts. Too much of our national discourse on immigration and refugees is fueled by fear instead of facts.
Our present opportunity in the church
Just 12% of evangelical Christians say their views on the arrival of refugees and other immigrants are primarily informed by the Bible. 69% of white evangelicals say that the arrival of immigrants to their community presents a threat or a burden of some sort, while only 42% say it presents “an opportunity to introduce them to Jesus”.
We need to seize the opportunity to welcome our immigrant and refugee neighbors by demonstrating the love of Christ in practical ways. Study Matt’s recent book, Seeking Refuge: On the shores of the global refugee crisis. Connect with World Relief to come alongside a refugee family.
Third, pray for the future.
The court will likely uphold the President’s travel ban. While there is a good argument that the second Executive Order on its face was effective 90 days from when signed, the bigger arguments around Presidential powers and Establishment Clause are not likely to succeed.
The issue remains a policy issue and not so much a court issue. A couple of weeks ago many groups advocated for reaching out to Congressional representatives in support of refugees. Consider joining these continuing efforts.
The future of America
Honestly we are a divided nation. We are not “one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” We need to pray for our leaders. We need to pray for our nation. Many of my justice friends advocate for change. Good. But we must remember we are agents of justice, not authors of justice. God alone changes hearts and nations. We should be on our knees crying out to Him to heal our land.
The future of the Church
Many bemoan the shrinkage in church attendance today. Why are people not regularly coming to church? Honestly, I don’t want to go to a place that seems more about politics than people. I don’t want to be part of an organization that says it is all about winning souls, but doesn’t love neighbors.
I grew up in church and I love the church. She is the bride of Christ. But a bride should love her husband. That love should be welcoming to all. That love should serve others as Christ served us. As the church, let’s reclaim our relevancy in our neighborhoods by loving and serving people.
In a couple of weeks Killa (left) will open a gospel justice center in Clarkston, Georgia. Clarkston is a refugee community. She will use her legal skills to serve refugees and immigrants. Sarah (right) is opening a gospel justice center in Jacksonville, Florida to serve immigrants, homeless veterans and other neighbors in need. They do this as an act of love and service, because they love Jesus. But they don’t want to just sit in a church. They want to live their faith in a meaningful way. Many others will join them in praying, baking, helping with forms, connecting people to community resources and more. How about you? What will you do?
You can read more about Killa’s story in our blog “Why are you a special agent of justice?”
Consider opening a gospel justice center in your church or community. No cost. All insurance, supplies, training and resources provided. No catch. We want to help you live the gospel through compassion and justice as you meet the legal and spiritual needs of your neighbors. E-mail Justine@gji.org to learn more.
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Eph. 5:15-16