By Reverend John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service
Recent world events have demonstrated a pressing need for people of faith and good will to make our voices heard. The majority of voters in the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union, unleashing a wave of hate crimes. Governors of U.S. states have attempted to block refugee resettlement and are currently holding the dreams of undocumented parents and children hostage in an ongoing court battle. And a presumptive presidential nominee is proposing to build a wall, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, and ban Muslims from the United States.
Now is a critical time to reflect on the ways in which uncertainty about today’s economy and fear about security have been exploited by opportunists seeking to further their own political agendas. People of faith and conscience must step forward in a shared responsibility to engage in productive conversations and concrete actions to reverse this trend.
Due to increased income inequalities and anxiety about globalization and unemployment, many people worry that they are being left behind in today’s economy. The numbers of mass shootings and terrorist attacks have increased, though the everyday extinguishing of precious young black lives goes barely noticed. The five-year long civil war in Syria has escalated displacement and regional instability. The United Nations reports that an unprecedented 65 million people languish, having been displaced from their homes and communities. And the increasing urgency for climate solutions will inevitably require real changes to the way we all live. All these factors and more have deeply shaken our collective sense of safety, stability and security.
Additionally, many older individuals are sensing a decline in their once dominant racial, cultural and political positions in society. Some are blaming the “other” for these shifts, fomenting simplistic notions of identity and allegiance. This explains, in part, the support for voter restrictions in the United States that disenfranchise many people of color, young adults and low-income Americans; as well as the preponderance of older Britons who voted to leave the EU despite opposition from younger generations.
Throughout history, some politicians have capitalized on the collective vulnerability that emerges in times of economic, political and cultural challenges by attempting to divide the public and pit marginalized communities against one another. Rather than scapegoating immigrants and promoting insular, nationalistic interests our focus should be on bringing people together to craft inclusive solutions based on the common good. Hyper-nationalism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and unconstitutional calls for discrimination against Muslims are symptomatic of people attempting to gain or hold onto power. This is not the first time we have seen this in our history, but we must strive to make it the last. The echoes of faith reverberate, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Our history bears witness to the impact that people of faith can have in both their action and inaction. People of faith have served as allies in solidarity with individuals who are directly impacted by dehumanizing rhetoric and unjust policies. But people of faith have also sat silently and idly by as injustice has gone unchecked, in some cases even excusing and promoting oppressive agendas. Moral courage and solutions-based leadership are critical if we are to weather the challenges ahead. We must each muster the moral courage to resist the temptation to be silent, and instead be resilient no matter how many times others tell us to be silent, or disagree with our point of view. We must commit ourselves to helping communities restore conversations that foster understanding and help a demoralized and fractured world heal through clarity and unity.
Through its efforts in the United States and internationally, as the people called CWS we are working to do just that. Our member churches, local refugee resettlement offices and affiliates, and thousands of volunteers are working with people who are directly impacted by dehumanizing rhetoric and unjust policies to improve their situations and have their voices heard. Informed by our programs and conversations with people across this country and around the world, we are emboldened by the moral imperative to speak truth to power. We oppose forms of economic globalization and free-trade treaties that disadvantage working people in both the United States and developing countries; but support strong U.S. global leadership and financing to address climate change and promote sustainable development. We believe that it is our responsibility to ensure robust support for refugees abroad and the U.S. refugee resettlement program; stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers against bigotry and hate; and create a path to citizenship for immigrants who are without needed documentation. People across the globe are volunteering, donating, and advocating in tandem to make this ongoing vision a reality.
Despite the convergence of so many complex and confusing issues this is a time for all of us to oppose all forms of bigotry and xenophobia and reactionary policies that embody these evils. Let us advocate and work to find long term sustainable solutions that are inclusive and justice-seeking, and which affirm belief in a society and world where the human rights of all people are respected, hunger has been eliminated and there is enough for all.