Via Media, Refugees, and The Way of The Cross

The recent Executive Order barring refugees from Syria and certain other Muslim countries has stirred up many reactions across the country, including two responses from the Episcopal Bishops in Connecticut. On January, 30 they shared a Bishops' Letter regarding Refugees which said, among other things, “We cannot be idle as this Executive Order threatens to undermine the values that we stand for as Americans, as Christians, as Episcopalians in Connecticut.”

A few days later, they wrote another letter, Follow-up on Bishops' Letter Regarding Refugees which included, “We have received a substantial amount of communication in response to our letter of January 30. In fact, we have received more reaction to this letter than to any other letter sent by us in the last five years.”

The response felt to me like a capitulation to those who put fear over faith but I suspect it was intended more as a response out of the Episcopal tradition of “via media” or “middle way”. It made me think of The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers Facebook post on inauguration day. I have repeatedly shared this post because I believe it is very important. In it she writes,

Remember that, every time we host or interact with President Trump or any other elected official, we do so first and foremost as representatives of our crucified, resurrected Lord.

As a communications professional, I really like this. When confronting thorny issues in communications it is always wise to return to the mission statement. Representing our crucified and resurrected Lord is a pretty good way of putting it. In the Book of Common Prayer, we describe the mission of the church saying, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ.”

I believe the intention of the second bishop’s letter was along these lines, but was that really the fruition? I am less sure. Instead,it sounds a little like a letter from the Laodicea church, neither hot nor cold.

The second bishops’ letter goes on to say, “Many of the responses, both in favor and against our letter, noted that we neglected to mention the need for our country’s borders to be protected from international threats of terrorism.” This is an important point, but it falls very close to promoting dangerous misunderstandings about the nature of security. The bishops’ letter talks about the responses being almost evenly split. Yet we must remember, the via media is not a plebiscite, it is an attempt to discern God’s will for us by listening to all sides.

So, what can we say about our safety? First, I will refer to the STATEMENT BY SENATORS McCAIN & GRAHAM ON EXECUTIVE ORDER ON IMMIGRATION. They start off by acknowledging the safety issue: “Our government has a responsibility to defend our borders, but we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”

They then reject the premise that the Executive Order improves safety:

Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.

Yet there is a deeper issue. Ultimately, our safety comes from the Lord. What makes us safe is doing God’s will, even if it requires us to do something as unpopular and perhaps even as unsafe as taking up our cross to love our neighbor, including those neighbors who are fleeing war in Syria.