By Bob Allen
Three Kansas City seminary presidents joined Dec. 15 in a letter asking governors of Kansas and Missouri to welcome Syrian refugees to their states.
President Molly T. Marshall of Central Baptist Theological Seminary joined the presidents of Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and St. Paul’s School of Theology in Leawood, Kan., in urging the governors to reconsider their stated positions on resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
“We respectfully request that you re-think your approach on whether Syrians are welcome in our states,” said the letter initiated by Marshall and signed by Nazarene Seminary President Carla Sundberg and St. Paul’s President Sharon Howell.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has said he won’t attempt to block the Obama administration from resettling refugees of the Syrian civil war in his state but asked the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security to carefully vet immigrants to ensure that Missourians are safe.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is one of 30 governors, mostly Republicans, asking that Syrian immigrations be stopped in light of security concerns. Last month Brownback signed an executive order barring state agencies, departments, boards and commissions from participating or assisting in the relocation of Syrian refugees to Kansas.
While commending the governors for “stewardship of office” in wanting to keep residents safe, the seminary presidents questioned the logic “that people fleeing brutality would be prone to foment it in a place of sanctuary.”
“Congregations have been involved in welcoming refugees in our states for decades, and these families and individuals have become productive members of our communities,” they said. “While the threat of terrorist activity may be higher than in former days, people of faith know that fear of the ‘other’ is contrary to our deepest values.”
The trio said they believe many faith communities would actively assist Syrian families in crisis and offered to galvanize host churches and families.
“You know too well how grave a human atrocity is unspooling before our eyes,” they said. “We urge you to undergird our desire to be a force for good in this dark time.”
The Obama administration has agreed to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, a fraction of an estimated 4.3 million Syrians who have fled their homeland during four years of civil war. The plan has come under criticism since November terrorist attacks in Paris by the jihadist Islamic State.
Some, like presidential candidate Donald Trump and evangelist Franklin Graham, have called for blocking all non-American Muslims from entering the U.S. until the terrorist threat is under control.
Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, issued a statement Dec. 14 repudiating “toxic rhetoric aimed at Muslims in the United States and around the world.”
“Although our beliefs are different, we pray for our Muslim neighbors and pledge to walk alongside them and not away from them in the days that lie ahead,” Paynter said.
“Facing fear, even protecting ourselves, does not mean foregoing human dignity. We are a Fellowship that loves God and loves our neighbor, as the Gospel compels us. This calling prevails in the face of the muddled and sometimes dangerous realities of our world.”