Kansas faith leaders urge Brownback to reverse ban on Syrian refugees
Topeka ? Several church leaders in Kansas delivered petitions Wednesday to Gov. Sam Brownback, urging him to reverse his Nov. 16 executive order barring the use of public funds to help resettle Syrian refugees in Kansas.
Their action was also repeated in statehouses around the country, where at least 31 governors, almost all of them Republican, have taken actions based on stated security concerns to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.
“As faith leaders, we seek to honor Scripture’s call to protect the refugee and the immigrant,” said Kurt Rietema, a pastor at Pathway Community Church in Olathe. “As it is written in the Hebrew Bible, ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.'”
The petitions were signed by more than 1,800 faith leaders around the country, including about 350 in Kansas, who are urging Brownback to rescind his executive order, Rietema said.
David Livingston, pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa, said at least 35 Methodist congregations in Kansas have signed on to sponsor at least one Syrian refugee each, if they are allowed to do so. But he said Brownback’s executive order is raising fear that if they do, they could lose access to state funding for other faith-based social services they provide.
“There are lots of organizations that work with churches that could have funding jeopardized,” he said. “If a governor, like Gov. Brownback who’s been outspoken about the need for us to protect religious liberties, anything that smacks of not allowing churches to do what we’re called to do, and we believe we’re called to do scripturally and as Americans, strikes at the heart of who we are.”
Brownback and other governors have cited concerns that the so-called Islamic State in Syria could insert terrorists into groups of refugees seeking asylum in the United States. The White House and State Department officials have said those concerns are misplaced and that the United States’ screening process is more than sufficient to prevent terrorists from entering the country through the refugee process.
The group of faith leaders who rallied at the Statehouse in Topeka also rejected the security concerns.
“We think it’s a false choice that’s being presented to us to say that a yes to refugees is a yes to terrorists at the same time,” said Josh Shepherd, a pastor in Kansas City, Kan., and executive director of Mission House, a ministry that works in urban neighborhoods. “In fact, the people that we are asking to be welcomed are the people that are fleeing our common enemy. These are not Syrian terrorists. They’re Syrian refugees.
“A few months ago, in regards to another issue, Gov. Brownback has spoken that we want to make sure that people’s religious liberties are protected,” said David Livingston, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa. “And that’s what we want today. We want to be able to fully practice our religious liberty, our freedom as Christians, to live out the Gospel message of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, giving drink to the thirsty, of being there for the vulnerable and the needy. And that certainly includes refugees from a war-torn country.”
The state of Kansas receives federal funds through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help resettle refugees. The program is administered through the Department for Children and Families, which contracts with nonprofit groups who have agreed to resettle refugees.
The group that serves the Lawrence area is Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, which was not present at the event in Topeka.