FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York City, NY – Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York issued the following public statement condemning President Trump’s Executive Order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries and suspending temporarily the admission of refugees into the United States.
It was with anger, fear, and a sense of fierce resolve that Union Theological Seminary received news on Saturday of President Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim countries. As a proudly Christian-founded and now multi-religious seminary, we are a community of scholars and students devoted to studying the religious and humanist values that have, for centuries, nurtured and guided the peace and well-being human persons and communities. This Executive Order makes a mockery of these values. It should appall and disturb all people of good conscience and faith and must be resisted at every turn.
The ban is, at its heart, deeply un-democratic. Its aim is to shatter dreams and destroy lives, not to encourage broad-based human flourishing. In this, it repudiates what is perhaps most noble about our country, the fact that immigrants are invited to come, thrive, and contribute to our American Dream, in all its vibrancy, hopes, and flaws. Democracy affirms respect and concern for human beings; democracy insists that human beings can never be objects.
This ban is an insult to all who have worked to build our country, and to those who have given their lives to assure and expand these freedoms. It by no means reflects the will of vast numbers of Americans, and it is an affront, particularly, to the basic religious freedoms that our Constitution vows to honor and protect.
In addition, it is clear this administration is actively overtaking federal institutions in such a way that they will not have traditional oversight in matters of security and war. This makes the opportunity for expansion of their egregious policies very real and our concern very appropriate.
The destructive impact of this ban cannot be underestimated, even for those not directly affected by it. It has created an environment in which a group of people are being singled out, stigmatized, and targeted for punitive action. As history shows us, this bigoted branding of a whole religion and of entire countries is a deadly, cynical, and decadent political game in which there can be no winners, only wasted lives and broken communities.
The Trump immigration ban did not emerge from thin air, but rests upon tacit, pernicious, and pervasive Islamophobia that permeates the country’s public rhetoric and culture. The government has cultivated an environment that permits suspicion and bias towards Muslims, Muslim immigrants, and refugees. Many people, even liberals and progressives, have hemmed and hawed over this fact for too long. The time to unequivocally reject Islamophobia as a form of bias in clear words and actions, including knowledge and protest, is now.
And so, we lift up the long tradition of Islam that teaches that the diversity of God’s world is a gift to humankind to be treasured and never abused. The more diverse we are, the richer our world and the happier our lives. We lift up the Buddhist call to compassion in all things and its reminder of the brutal damage that an unchecked ego, like President Trump’s, can inflict upon others. We also put before you the many humanist traditions that remind us constantly of our ethical responsibility to work towards the well being of all people and of the earth.
As a community, we welcome and protect a marvelous and gifted diversity of students, including DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, Muslim students and faculty from not just the U.S. but around the world, LGBTQ students, students who are devoutly pro-choice, students who stood at Standing Rock, and students who marched with Black Lives Matter.
We at Union cannot help but wonder, “When will President Trump come for us – or for you?” That we can even imagine such real-life possibilities exposes the damage that this order has already inflicted upon the hearts and minds of so many. In truth, when the Trump Administration tries to “divide and conquer” as with this immigration ban, they are already coming for us all. So, inter-community solidarity is critically needed in the face of this evil edict.
For these reasons, we call on all people of faith and of moral commitment to join the growing New American Resistance and to fight these unjust actions.
We are particularly concerned that the sentiments behind this order are praised by many Christian Americans who believe such action is faithful and Godly. This is wrong, and should be denounced, theologically as well as politically, in every church and faith community across the land. At the heart of the Christian tradition is the call to love one another, to welcome those who are strangers, who are different, who suffer, who are in need. Indeed, turning your back on anyone, be they friend or foe, is an action directly refused by Jesus. So should it be by all Christians who seek to follow him.
Because of this, we ask our Christian brothers and sisters who support this action to return to the pages of their Bibles and read its words again, closely and with open hearts.
Hear the word of the Lord who speaks through the Hebrew Prophets and harshly condemns those who would shun the stranger and sojourner, or pour wrath upon those who suffer. Hear today, the voices of our Jewish sisters and brothers who remind us ever-anew of the power of this biblical vision.
We ask that you read, again, the New Testament Gospels, especially Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. The message of love and of freedom for all God’s children is strong and unswerving.
Please, we ask, do not close your eyes to the truth of your faith and do not turn your back on the God who calls us to build communities marked by love, justice, and mercy.
Please, we beseech you, do not be fooled by President Trump. This ban is ungodly and dangerous, and the scope of its heresy will no doubt expand in the days ahead. Imagine if such a ban was released against Christians in “Christian countries” deemed dangerous. Would you not see its evil immediately?
Please, we pray that you will reject these forces of evil, stand against the soul-harming hatred it breeds, and join us in the movement to stop the harm.
As an international, ecumenical, and interreligious seminary, we at Union recognize that, now more than ever, the social, moral, and political issues we face are global in scope. This ban impacts international students studying in the U.S., our students going to other countries, and scholarly and artistic participation in vital international conversations, conferences, and teaching. We need a vibrant exchange of ideas among people from all over the world and from various religious perspectives to develop effective, compassionate, and just responses to crises.
We at Union, along with many other people of faith and of conscience, around the country, and throughout the world, promise to stand against these policies and to uphold religious and humanist values that celebrate the fullness of human family, in all its magnificent diversity. Moreover, we promise to continue cultivating forms of leadership in our students and amongst our faculty that count well-honed wisdom and compassionate care among the highest values of leadership.
There are many of us, our voices are loud, our commitments are strong, our will is as tough as steel, and our faith, unswerving.
We’re all in this together.
Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of the Faculty, Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy
Rev. Fred Davie, Executive-Vice President
Sarah Azaransky, Assistant Professor of Social Ethics
Mary C. Boys, Dean of Academic Affairs and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology
David M. Carr, Professor of Old Testament
Cláudio Carvalhaes, Associate Professor of Worship
Tara Hyun Kyung Chung, Associate Professor of Ecumenical Studies
James H. Cone, Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology
Pamela Cooper-White, Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion
Samuel Cruz, Assistant Professor of Church and Society
Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics
Karenna Gore, Director, Center for Earth Ethics
Roger Haight, Scholar in Residence
Esther J. Hamori, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Jeremy F. Hultin, Visiting Associate Professor of Biblical Languages
Brigitte Kahl, Professor of New Testament
Jerusha T. Lamptey, Assistant Professor of Islam and Ministry
Daisy L. Machado, Professor of Church History
John A. McGuckin, Ane Marie and Bent Emil Nielsen Professor in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History & Professor of Byzantine Christian Studies, Columbia University
Troy Messenger, Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Worship
Aliou C. Niang, Assistant Professor of New Testament
Su Yon Pak, Senior Director and Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-Based Education
Jan Rehmann, Visiting Professor for Critical Theory and Social Analysis, Director of the Ph.D. Program
Gregory Snyder, Senior Director of Buddhist Studies, President & Senior Dharma Teacher, Brooklyn Zen Center
Liz Theoharis, Co-Director of the Kairos Center and a Founder and the Coordinator of the Poverty Initiative
John J. Thatamanil, Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions
Lisa L. Thompson, Assistant Professor of Homiletics
Janet R. Walton, Professor of Worship
Andrea White, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion