Consider the Odds Against Refugees

The odds of things fascinate me. For example, the odds of being struck by lightning while outside in a thunderstorm are only 1 in 12,000. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have better odds to win this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. They’re at only 1 in 5,000. There are much higher odds when it comes to winning a typical state lottery jackpot. Those odds average out at 1 in 292 million. And according to the Cato Institute, a rather conservative policy think tank, the odds of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a refugee who’s been vetted through our government’s 18-month to 24-month process is 1 in 3.6 billion.

And yet, our government sees these folk as such a threat that the whole refugee program is being brought to a halt. Based on the odds, our government’s action makes no rational sense. A ban on people going outside in lightning storms would make more sense. Of course, this refugee ban isn’t based on any sensible data or rational reality. It’s grounded in emotion, fear, and scapegoating. Refugees aren’t a physical danger to us. They’re not taking our jobs. They’re not ruining our way of life. They’re absolutely no threat to us, existential or otherwise. Nevertheless, our government has mean-spiritedly banned them from receiving hospitality from faith-based refugee resettlement ministries like our own Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM).

I know people in our country are scared and anxious about the future. We live in a time of great economic uncertainty and global change. Demagogues pick up on our fear of uncertainty and our anxiety about change, and then they offer up convenient scapegoats to blame. They tell us to listen to them and they’ll protect us from harm. Throughout history, demagogues have had a penchant for such scapegoating. In the great narrative of redemption that we call the Gospel, Jesus was named a scapegoat by the demagogue Caiaphas (John 11:50). The resurrection was, among other things, God’s word to humanity that such scapegoating must end. The scapegoats du jour are refugees.

This isn’t a political issue although it’s lived out in the political realm. This is a profoundly moral issue that cuts to the heart of our faith in Jesus who spent his first two years of life as a refugee from the violence of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-16). I can’t see in this refugee ban anything that remotely looks like Jesus. Thus, I must reject our government’s action as profoundly counter to the Gospel of Jesus and antithetical to his teaching. I repudiate the false notion that a refugee ban will do anything to address the fears and anxieties present in our culture. Even though a judge has temporarily blocked the refugee ban, I ask us all who seek to follow Jesus to support and pray for the important ministry of Episcopal Migration Ministries, one of nine national agencies responsible for resettling refugees in the U.S.

For more information about how you can help refugees, please visit the EMM website: I also commend to you the statement of my colleague in Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright. We share a strong opposition to this refugee ban as being incongruent with following Jesus as Lord and Savior.



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