Politics & Government

Kansas Christian leaders seek to welcome Syrian refugees


Kansas religious leaders are calling for greater empathy for Syrian refugees as Gov. Sam Brownback and political leaders around the nation seek to restrict any influx of refugees.

The United Methodist Church says congregations in Kansas and Nebraska are ready to welcome and offer help to refugees. Kansas’ Catholic bishops also expressed support for refugees Friday and warned against using the issue for political reasons.

The United States is set to receive 10,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria next year — a small portion of the more than 4 million people displaced by the war. However, after a terrorist attack linked to ISIS killed 129 people in Paris last week, many Republican leaders have balked at receiving the refugees under President Obama’s plan.

Methodist Bishop Scott Jones said Friday that at least 35 congregations in the Great Plains Conference, which covers Kansas and Nebraska, are willing to sponsor Syrian refugee families when that becomes possible.

“We have sponsored refugee families in the past and we are prepared to offer our hospitality to this group as well,” Jones said. “These are churches in Kansas and Nebraska that will help these people settle and find new lives in America.”

We are prepared to offer our hospitality to this group.

Methodist Bishop Scott Jones, saying congregations in Kansas and Nebraska would host Syrian refugees

Jones called it a Christian duty to help the refugees and said the best way to fight the war against jihadists “is to show that they cannot successfully stop us from living out our Christian and American values.”

Todd Seifert, spokesman for the Great Plains Conference, indicated several congregations in Wichita probably would be part of the effort but would not specify which ones.

Congregations would offer financial support and help refugees get settled, he said. Support could vary depending on the congregations and the needs of individual refugees. Methodist churches plan to gather over the next few weeks to discuss plans in more detail.

Brownback issued an executive order earlier this week prohibiting Kansas agencies from cooperating with the federal government in resettling refugees from Syria.

He and 26 other Republican governors sent a letter to the president Friday. It said that in “the wake of this recent tragedy, and until we can ensure the citizens of our states that an exhaustive review of all security measures has been completed and the necessary changes have been implemented, we respectfully request that you suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees.”

We respectfully request that you suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees.

Gov. Sam Brownback and 26 other Republican governors in a letter to President Obama

After a speech in Wichita Friday, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo applauded the churches’ willingness to take in refugees, provided they can be background checked to ensure they’re not a threat to America’s security.

“I have great respect for them, I’m glad they’re doing it and it may well be the case that they get those people,” Pompeo said. “And we should ensure that the people that they get don’t present a risk. I think those two things are entirely consistent.”

Pompeo recently returned from a fact-finding trip in the Middle East where he visited refugee encampments in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

“Nobody would have a heart that said we want to put these folks in a tough place,” he said. “We’re a caring Christian nation that has a set of values that has always welcomed and we ought to do that. But I’ve got to make sure that those who are here are safe too.”

Supporters of refugees say they are the most thoroughly vetted immigrants to the country and undergo background checks from multiple federal agencies.

Jones urged “all government officials to open up a pathway for us to welcome these refugees to our country.”

The state’s Catholic bishops also decried the reluctance of elected officials to welcome refugees in a letter Friday.

“Our country has long been a beacon of hope for the oppressed peoples of the world,” the letter from the bishops said. “What a terrible tragedy it would be for humanity if America suddenly became a country that turns away even women and children fleeing the horrors of war and terrorism.”

The bishops said they did not deny the seriousness of the threat posed by ISIS, but that “given the scale of human suffering in Syria and the security measures in place to scrutinize refugees, we believe that resettlement should continue. We cannot allow fear to harden our hearts.”

We cannot allow fear to harden our hearts.

A letter from Catholic bishops in Kansas

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3