Sometimes it takes wrong to make people stand up for what is right.
President Donald Trump has begun his term with an outpouring of wrong, and none of it is more wrong than his “temporary” ban on mostly Muslim refugees from war-torn countries. So it was heartening Tuesday night to see a standing-room-only crowd fill Christ Church Cathedral to publicly reject Trump’s hate.
Speaker after speaker declared that shutting out refugees is inconsistent with American values and the moral foundation of the world’s major faiths. Baby Jesus and his family were refugees from King Herod. The Prophet Muhammad fled Mecca with his followers to escape persecution. Throughout history, Jews have often been refugees. “Welcome the stranger” is a basic tenant of virtually all religions.
“Our faith traditions forbid us from being indifferent,” said Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel. “We are a nation of refugees. Nothing could be more un-American than ‘America First’.”
After the crowd heard from Christian and Zen Buddhist leaders, Rabbi Moshe Smolkin of Ohavay Zion Synagogue recalled how ‘America First’ sentiment in the 1930s kept his wife’s grandmother, a refugee from Nazi Germany, from entering this country. Resettled refugees from Syria, Iraq and the Congo told personal stories.
Countering Trump’s bogus claims, Allison Duvall of Episcopal Migration Ministries and Mary Cobb of Kentucky Refugee Ministries presented facts about the resettlement process and the years of vetting refugees go through.
“I was raised that you always welcome people to your home,” said Police Chief Mark Barnard, who represented city officials. “You always help people in need. You don’t turn them away.”
Two Democratic politicians from Lexington — Sen. Reginald Thomas and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes — also spoke. Their presence underscored the absence of Republican politicians, who have had little to say about Trump’s reckless actions and authoritarian behavior. Other than weasel words from Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington, Kentucky Republicans in Congress have largely been silent, perhaps hoping people won’t notice their moral cowardice.
So what can good people do to try to right this wrong? Cobb said Kentucky Refugee Ministries needs volunteers and donations of both money and everyday necessities, such as disposable diapers. More information: Kyrm.org or (859) 226-5661.
Since 1990, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a non-profit organization supported by the faith communities, has worked with the U.S. State Department to resettle well-vetted refugees from war and persecution. It helps them learn English, navigate everyday American life, find jobs and become self-sufficient. These refugees haven’t made Kentucky “unsafe”; they have enriched our culture and economy.
Refugees recently resettled by Kentucky Refugee Ministries came from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Cuba, the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Syria.
It is important to remember that many refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan came here because they had helped U.S. troops fight Islamic terrorists. By banning them, Trump has literally turned his back on our friends. No wonder radical Islamic terrorist groups have applauded his refugee ban as a great recruiting tool for them.
The world now has an estimated 63 million displaced people. About 21 million of them are refugees, half of whom are children. War and terrorism have resulted in the most global refugees than at any time since World War II.
America should not be shutting out refugees. That is why people of all faiths — or no faith — who believe in traditional American values must stand up, speak out and keep speaking out until Trump and his enablers are forced to listen.
Each person can make a difference, as I was reminded a few minutes before the event at Christ Church Cathedral began. Ann Honomichl of Lexington walked up and down the aisles offering stamped, pre-addressed postcards to anyone willing to share their thoughts with Barr, who has largely defended Trump’s refugee ban.
“I feel like I’m watching a train wreck,” said Honomichl, who said she had addressed more than 200 postcards she bought with her own money. “Everything I love about this country is falling apart around us.”