“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
This year we mark World Refugee Day, on June 20, aware that welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers is more important than ever. Halfway through 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) raised its estimate of the number of displaced people around the world, from 89.3 at the end of 2021 to 103 million. Families flee their homes for many reasons: conflict (as we’ve seen in Sudan and the Russia-Ukraine War), persecution, human rights violations, growing violence toward and exclusion of Indigenous and African-descent communities, and natural disasters intensified by Earth’s climate crisis. Lengthy periods of displacement in camps wear on the uprooted, affecting their health, access to education, and financial security. We must live out the calling of our faith by seeking justice, peace and protection for our refugee and migrant siblings.
The United States has been a global leader in refugee resettlement, welcoming people of diverse religious traditions and racial and ethnic backgrounds. Yet we can still do more to set a positive example in the world; last year, with an annual ceiling of 125,000 refugees, the U.S. welcomed only 25,465. God’s intention, revealed through Scripture, is that all people will have life abundantly and experience well-being. We all want our families to grow up in the best possible environment so that they might flourish. God’s power enables us to rise above fear and exclusion and to love as God loves.
Since World War II, Lutherans in the United States have responded to God’s call by leading resettlement efforts, working hand in hand with the United States Refugee Admissions Program, and welcoming those who seek safety and security. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) — the largest faith-based nonprofit in the United States dedicated to serving immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees — has welcomed more than 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers since 1939, working alongside dedicated Lutheran congregations and affiliates to ensure their resettlement in communities across the United States. Our advocacy is informed by the knowledge that we are all children of God, with inherent dignity given by our Creator. We work tirelessly to ensure that policymakers nationwide establish policies that acknowledge and affirm these principles.
The ELCA works closely with LIRS, Lutheran World Federation and other ecumenical partners to learn about and bear witness to the transformative power of welcome. It supports initiatives that benefit immigrants and refugees, and it empowers communities to welcome newcomers. With its AMMPARO strategy (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities), the church has adopted a holistic, integrated way to accompany people who have been forced to flee their communities, walking alongside them in their countries of origin, in transit, in their destination countries, and when they must return. Welcoming and sanctuary congregations participate in resettling refugees, sponsoring asylum-seekers and advocating for refugees in their local communities.
ELCA social statements and resolutions affirm the church’s support for a generous policy of welcoming refugees and immigrants. As the social statement For Peace in God’s World (1995) explains, “the Church serves when it holds power accountable, advocates justice, stands with those who are poor and vulnerable, provides sanctuary, and meets human need.”
In honor of World Refugee Day on June 20, the ELCA and LIRS advocacy networks invite their members to a national day of advocacy, intended to build urgency for robust support for refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers. Participants will engage their elected representatives at the federal level, in person and over the phone. LIRS and ELCA remain committed to uplifting the voices and stories of people affected, many of whom will help lead our efforts on Capitol Hill. We urge all to learn more about refugee admissions in the United States, join LIRS’s 125 Watch campaign, accompany migrants through AMMPARO, and advocate through prayer and action for our neighbors in need.
We pray that you will join us in welcoming all who seek refuge in the United States.
With great hope,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah
President and CEO
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service