Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Letter to My Congressman, Kevin Yoder, re: Syrian Refugees

Dear Representative Yoder,

On November 19, you voted in favor of H.R. 4038, "American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015"  or the "American SAFE Act."  In your November 24 e-mail, you say this act serves"to pause the resettlement program for refugees from Iraq and Syria until various intelligence and national security agencies certify to Congress that each refugee is not a threat." I write as a voting resident in your district and as a Christian minister to express my outrage at your vote and my utter disagreement with the motivation behind it.  You, along with members of both political parties who voted for this bill, have failed to live up to the high ideals of our nation.

Although violent terror attacks are a real danger to our nation and the rest of the world, the "American SAFE" act does nothing to actually keep us safe.  Numerous media outlets have reported that the the process for vetting people seeking refugee status for U.S. Immigration is thorough and lengthy.  Those applying for refugee status can wait up to 3 years and must pass screenings by multiple federal agencies before their case can even be considered.  (For an example of the many articles detailing the intense process of screening refugees, see the October 2 article by Janell Ross in The Washington Post.) The "American SAFE Act" only delays further refugees from war finding a safe haven; it does not make the process better.  

In reality, the motivation behind this bill is not to keep us safer, but to keep you safely elected. Voting for this act is a way for you to appease voters whose fears have been stoked by right-wing media that turn fear into ratings and profit.  By demonizing  people from the Middle East who are primarily of the Islamic faith, the "American SAFE Act" resorts to the lowest form of political scapegoating.  It may make you look good to conservative primary voters, but it is despicable.  By pushing for further delays for Syrian refugees, you make them twice the victims of ISIS.  First, they must flee their homeland because of ISIS.  Second, their opportunity to find safety is delayed if not refused due to your supposed fears of ISIS.  The "American SAFE Act" is essentially doing the work of ISIS rather than making us safer.  As you enjoy the holidays with your family, I hope you take time to consider the thousands of refugees fleeing war and terrorism who will not enjoy the hospitality of our great country.

Further proof that your stated concern of making Kansans safer is nothing more than political theater comes when your record on gun safety is considered.  You have bragged about your "A Rating from the NRA," yet the most likely person to commit a terrorist act in our country is a white male with unfettered access to military-style assault weapons.  The killing of three people--including a police officer--and wounding of eleven more in Colorado Springs this week happens to be only the latest in over 1000 mass shootings which have happened since the slaughter of school children in Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I realize this does not concern you, since the killings of three people by white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom right here in your own district (2 miles from my house!) did nothing to change your voting record.  My children practice "active shooter" drills at school the way I grew up practicing fire and tornado drills in school when I was their age.  Even my own house of worship--as the murders at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. show--is not safe from domestic terrorism.  If you truly cared about keeping citizens in your district safe, you would work for common sense gun safety legislation rather than legislation that accomplishes nothing other than to punish people fleeing terror.

It is widely known that you are a person of the Christian faith, but as seems to be the case with all politicians, you are peculiarly selective in your use of religion to promote your political views. In the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures, the message is quite clear of God's concern for refugees.  Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his sons, Moses, David, the prophets, and even Jesus and his parents are all forced to leave their lands due to threats of political violence and/or economic deprivation.  From the Torah to the Prophets, from the Psalms to the books of Wisdom, from the Gospels to the epistles, the Bible is full of declarations that God expects people with the power to help refugees to do so.  

I realize that the demands of faith often run up against competing political concerns and even people of faith operating with pure motives can disagree, but the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 seem quite clear to me: "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."  Christ expects us to treat those considered least in the world as we would treat him, including Syrian refugees.  Only people of faith who have given themselves over to a political ideology that really cares nothing for "the least of these" can find a loophole in these verses.

I urge you as a person of faith, a person of good conscience, and a duly elected representative who claims to care for his constituents to set aside political games like "the American SAFE Act" and use your power to make changes that will truly increase the safety of people in our society, a society great enough to welcome families fleeing war and terrorism.


Rev. Chase Peeples

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