A note from Clarkston, Georgia
(My city is home to nearly 5,000 refugees from all over the world. We have been called “the most diverse square mile in the country” by major news outlets. Doug and I and our family are a minority here, but then again, so is everyone. It’s fair to say we’re a whole city of minorities.)
This climate of animosity makes me want to hide out – to insist to myself that these issues will sort themselves out and that they are above my pay grade. The rancor saddens me deeply.
I write this sitting in my comfy living room with my coffee, enjoying the quiet morning. This is probably what most of my good friends also are doing this fine morning. Most of my good friends are just like me – white, upper class, Christian, and conservative.
In my younger days, I interned twice at a conservative think tank and once for my Republican Senator. I must have answered 10,000 phone calls from people voicing their opinions about issues that riled them up. I bet I mailed 5,000 letters that summer…letters back to people saying, “I heard you. Sincerely, – Your Senator.” Most people would have found this paper-cut filled job mundane. Not this girl. I loved every minute of it.
Later, I taught U.S. Government to seniors at a Christian day school. Teaching that course was my favorite job – ever. It stirs my soul to hear young people wrestle with issues out loud, and I love to touch off a good, well-informed debate. When I took students to Washington D.C., I would always eagerly wait to see which kids lit up over the experience of seeing government in action – there were always a few for whom it was life changing. My kindred spirits. (There was also the kid who snuck off and got his first tattoo on my watch, but I’m not going there today…)
All this to say that I love politics; I love issues; I love debate; I love sharing it with others.
But this love has a dark side. It can make me want to win, want to one-up, want to prove, want to score. It can make me more about me – me being right, smart, informed, and engaged. It can even make me condescending.
So this refugee issue is a tough one for me.
It’s tough because I do happen to have a more well-informed perspective than a lot of my friends. Not because I’m better, but because I’m invested where I live, and I live among refugees and the people who care for them day-in, day-out. I want to share my views, but I want to do so from a place of grace and humility.
It’s tough because I want to act, but more than that I want to seek understanding – a process that seems to get short-circuited by sound bites and party lines. I could march. I’ve marched before – several times – about issues I care about. It’s empowering and powerful. I also know that a peaceful protest is not a replacement for a dialogue, a friendship, a knowledge and love for the “other” (whomever the other may be.)
It’s tough because I know enough to care deeply about this issue, but I also know enough to know that I’ve not begun to understand the journey of the refugee. For me to speak for someone whose journey is so much more rich with suffering than mine feels like I’m cheapening the lives of my friends and using them as a platform for my own voice to be heard. That terrifies me.
It’s tough because there’s a deep isolation to living in the in-between, and sometimes I don’t know how to talk to either “side.” I have friends – true friends with whom I laugh – who try to support families with minimum wage jobs. I have friends who ran for their lives in the middle of the night. I have friends who wear a head covering and value the religious freedom here. I have friends whose children are unaccounted for…lost. These friends don’t know my other friends. Friends whose kids struggle with anxiety and eating disorders and addictions. Friends who seek to love and neighbor well in their jobs, schools, churches, and communities. And friends who become truly exhausted by the rat race of raising kids in a hyper competitive environment. My sets of friends don’t really know each other. And sometimes I don’t feel like I fully know my own friends – in either part of my world. But yet I want to speak today so that one set of friends sees the other more clearly.
So here’s the deal.
I want to simply share what I’ve come to be for – not against. I want to invite anyone at all to come have coffee, hang out, and learn more. We can learn from each other. I know we can.
I’m for facts. There are facts out there. In today’s news environment, we’ve become skeptical of anything being “real.” Facts include the following: Refugees to America are not illegal immigrants. The 9/11 terrorists were not refugees. While terrorism is the war of this generation, the US refugee program is not a wide doorway for potential terrorists. Instead, the program is a proven pathway for people who have suffered under brutal regimes to find a safe home.*
I’m for careful vetting. The fact is that the refugee resettlement process represents a vetting endeavor that takes between one and two years to complete. To come to America as a refugee is the most highly vetted way to come. Already.
I’m for nuance. The issue of immigration and refugee resettlement is a nuanced issue. I’m for people being treated carefully, respectfully and with dignity, because no human beings deserve a label that leads to fear that leads to bias that leads to discrimination. The executive order that halts an already very thoughtful program without any care for the vulnerable people “in process” is not nuanced. In my view, it plays up fears and is reactionary, leaving me wondering what is being reacted against in such a strong manner that it stops the flow of all refugees for 120 days. Every single one. Is there a new, giant threat we don’t know about that justifies this? I really would love to know.
I am for understanding. I’ve read so many articles this weekend from so many perspectives – some are reactionary, some are cold, some are incendiary, some are downright confusing. It seems that it’s incumbent on us to approach these issues from a place of humility when we take strong stands about them. So much of what’s happened this week in the new administration has been confusing to me. I’m not a trade expert. I’m not a health care expert. I’d have to look deeply at many of the issues to know what I think. But in this new era of “echo chamber politics” where we can conceivably only hear what echoes the views of our tribe, let’s be people who seek to understand and who aren’t afraid to read and digest the other side.
I’m for loving the vulnerable, because I believe the gospel, and because I believe that Christ meant it literally when He opened His public ministry by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Jesus acted boldly toward the broken and vulnerable (namely all of us), even when we were His enemies. This is the gospel, and I believe this is His very work in the world through us, His Church. He told us that we could love without fear – not because the world isn’t scary but because love is bigger.
I’m for conversation. I’d love to have one with anyone, anytime (well, not after 9 pm because we all know I go to bed early…) Seriously, send me a note and we’ll have coffee.
I’m for my friends.
*(There’s a lot out there – including a current National Review article that spins facts in ways that attaches fear to the refugee program. However, the Ohio State student is the only actual refugee who has carried out an attack, and no deaths resulted. That’s one in three million. I’d venture to guess that one in three million Americans at large also perpetrate violent acts.)
Here are some more articles for those of you who like to learn more (thanks to Judy Wu Dominick for some of these).
Full text of the executive order signed by President Trump https://www.lexisnexis.com/…/text-of-executive-order-quot-p…
World Relief’s current response:
Thoughts on the response of the church to refugees:
Great insight into the current immigration pathways to the U.S. as well as more look at biblical frameworks regarding immigration policy.
A factual look at the resettlement program over time from Pew:
An interesting document with information about how refugees fare after arrival in the US:
The National Review Article I referenced: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444370/donald-trump-refugee-executive-order-no-muslim-ban-separating-fact-hysteria
A helpful analysis of the implications of this EO by Vox staff writer Dara Lind, who focuses on immigration policy:
How an “America First” policy that essentially shuts out victims of terrorism could backfire on the U.S. – written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
Legal thoughts on the executive order: https://lawfareblog.com/malevolence-tempered-incompetence-trumps-horrifying-executive-order-refugees-and-visas
And thank you for not fearing – for NOT hiding out – and DO. NOT. STOP. TALKING!
Your voice is paramount. Your perspective priceless.
I stand shoulder to shoulder with you and sit in conversation, urging love upon the vulnerable!
I so enjoyed reading this! Best thing Ive seen or read on this issue yet. It should be published!!
I adore you Karen Guess 🙂 you are a complete inspiration .. Go God !
Thank you for speaking up with humility and love! I appreciate your perspective.