an open letter to President Trump concerning refugees

Posted by PeteEnns on February 2, 2017 in Bible and culture/current events 16 Comments

refugeeMy friend Marc Brettler wrote an open letter to President Trump concerning refugees and asked me if I would post it. And I am most happy to.

Brettler is the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Jewish Studies at Duke University, and formerly longtime professor at Brandeis University. If you’re not familiar with his work, check out his great website, He has written many books, one of which I co-authored (The Bible and the Believer). He also co-edited The Jewish Annotated New Testament  and The Jewish Study Bible.

Here is the link to the letter, which is brief and well-spoken.


    • Define “reason” in your case. Trump’s national security team is probably the most competent in modern history. Lt. Gen. Flynn was trying to inform Fmr. Pres. Obama back in 2014 that there was a rise in Islamic extremism sweeping the Middle East. He was forced into silence and then into retirement by the Obama administration and sure enough, ISIS emerged.
      Gen. Mattis was directly involved in leading troops in battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
      Gen. Kelly also served as a senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense back in 2011.
      I am just going to break this to you but the men Trump picked to be his national security team have been doing this for years, they know how to keep Americans safe, and they are far more competent than your average pastor or liberal arts scholar when it comes to national security.
      As for what God is telling Trump–all I know is that God is telling Trump that he has a duty to prevent American citizens from being killed by foreign jihadists and this was suggested to him by his national security team.
      Adults vs. Children–

      • I’d have to say I fail to see the relevance of your point. The main role of generals is to be prepared to fight enemies. The role of Politicians and advisors is principally to stop them having to do it in the first place. Because someone is good in one particular role does not mean he is good in a possibly related but different role. You only need to look back at the removal of Gen McArthur in Korea to see that an arguably brilliant general may actually be a great danger to both World and American national security. The military advisors picked by Trump may or may not be good at their jobs, may have had good advice ignored mistakenly in the past, but the role of the military is not that of policing. The issues re terrorism in America and immigration are not military issues but specifically policing issues. Over here in the UK we made a massive mistake in Northern Ireland by confusing the two and left military personnel to deal with what was essentially a policing role. The Massacre of bloody Sunday shows that people trained to kill are not necessarily very good at keeping the innocent alive.

        As to the point about what God may or may not be telling Trump, I’m not sure that there is much if any evidence in his past to assume he has spent any time worrying about what God may think about him.

        • “I’d have to say I fail to see the relevance of your point. The main role of generals is to be prepared to fight enemies. The role of Politicians and advisors is principally to stop them having to do it in the first place.”
          Incorrect. You are correct that the role of military generals is to be prepared to fight enemies but they are also supposed to have a plan to stop them. Most of our politicians nowadays care much more about image and public appearance. Plus, the pattern of warfare has advanced since McArthur’s era to include threats of nuclear armaments such as what Iran is doing right now, to include and enforce the wing of the law by defending the nation from foreign enemies (the military is part of the Department of Defense meaning national security is something that military leaders ought to be trained in), and also cyber-security (I mean, the flip-side is we could have had Pres. Clinton in the White House now allowing in even more of these refugees as “progressive Christians” danced around praising our leader complete with open borders, open computer systems that individuals can hack into (I tend to be convinced that Guccifer 2.0 was acting on his own and used Russian coding purchased off a black market on the deep web), etc.). We’re living in the post-modern era of warfare right now which will implement much more technology as well as the usage of faking IDs in order to get into other nations and these Islamic Radical groups in the Middle East have been doing that for over a year now (just look at the truck driver in Germany). This may ultimately be the most competent national security team we have had (keep also in mind that during the primaries, Trump told Priebus to up cyber-security for the RNC and while the DNC was hacked, the RNC stood strong).
          Whether God is speaking to Trump and how or not, neither of us can judge that matter and while there’s not much about his past-self, I am entirely unconvinced that we are dealing with Trump-the-man. This was a man who many years ago and for most of his life was pro-abortion and we can clearly see a huge change there based on some of his nominations (Sessions, Price, Mulvaney) as well as his own Vice President pick being from a state that had forbidden abortion (Indiana). To be honest, I thought he was a fraud in that category but I was proven significantly wrong. But also, Sec. John Kelly appears at first glance to be strongly Catholic (and not just an illusionary “Catholic” like Kaine and Pelosi).
          I don’t know what the man’s religious views are if he is agnostic, atheist or Presbyterian. I don’t know that. What I do know is that Ross cannot judge that, newenglandsun cannot judge that, and that he definitely does not care about what the people of the United States think about him. Which may not be a bad thing considering that the President is not always going to make decisions we like. As Gutfeld said, “they’re acting like children who just got their flu shots.”

  • There seems to be a lot of these statements from progressive Christian movements but there does need to be a balanced consideration especially when looking at an issue of national security. First off, who comes into a nation is up to the nation itself. Secondly, Scripture notes that the duty of Government is bring terror to wrongdoers and establish order (Rom. 13).
    This goes back to the “refugees”. Statistical studies have proven that these “refugees” are largely from Sunni Muslim groups that have been involved directly or indirectly in rebellious acts against their governments in order to establish Islamic States (>90% in fact). The major problem is that these groups have many other places to go as well which have established Islamic States but these are not what would in technicality be considered “poor and needy” people.
    The problem seems to neglect the situation of these war-torn states, why they are war-torn (mostly because of Obama’s failed foreign policies), and who is making them war-torn (mostly Sunni Groups that these “refugees” are hailing from).
    The U.S. is not the Church. The Church has an evangelical mission to establish itself in the broad world by extending acts of missions throughout the world. The U.S. has a mission to look after and defend the rights of U.S. citizens. If the Church is getting involved in providing shelters to these people who come into our nation, that is part of its evangelical mission. But the Church does not have the authority to say “everyone should come into our nation” especially if that jeopardizes the lives of others that the Church also needs to address its evangelical mission to–Pagans, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, etc.–mainly people that a lot of these Sunni “refugees” do want to kill.
    BUT that said, we need to consider whether letters such as these are worth the ink and paper.
    1. Fmr. Pres. Obama made numerous policies that EXPLICITLY counteracted the Gospel message (including directing funding to abortion clinics worldwide)–no Christian I saw ever wrote a letter to him telling him to “knock-it-off”.
    2. Fmr. Pres. Obama also made a similar moratorium on Iraq for 6 months back in 2011. No Christian ever wrote a letter telling him that was “un-Christian”.
    3. Pres. Trump WILL respond in full to this letter 120 days from Jan. 27 when this moratorium went into the effect for Sudan, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Yemen, and Iraq and when the situation clears up in Syria that the “refugees” coming from there are not from the midst of rebels trying to dethrone Assad, he will respond to the letter in regards to Syria as well. This is not a PERMANENT ban.
    4. Most important, I highly recommend you watch this video and get out of the whole “shock-politics” business–

    • I should note: It is not Palestine but Somalia–I was trying to list them by memory.
      To my defense, most cannot even list three.

  • Not sure what the point of this was.

    1) Pretty sure Trump doesn’t read letters. Was there some way to condense this into a 140 character tweet?

    2) Also pretty sure Trump’s an atheist. Or perhaps a monotheist with himself being God. Why would he care about Scripture? Except to pander.

    3) So does this letter help him pander?

    Amyway, just some thoughts. Always important to know your audience! 😉

  • OK so I’m English and watching President Trump from a distance but there are similarities between what has happened in your country and in the UK. . .big changes are afoot. I take the points that Marc has made but I don’t see that Mr Trump is at odds with anything in the article , he has just defined the poor and needy differently from the more affluent members of society whose definition of the poor and needy does not include their fellow Americans.
    Over here I have become tired of ecomomically stable and succesful people telling others who are much more disadvantaged that they should show christian charity to others. These are the people who lose out on jobs to others willing to work for lower wages, have overcrowded and increasingly desperate health services, overcrowded schools and are priced out of any vacant houses. These people bear the brunt of all of this not the people who are able to afford a house, choose a school, afford private healthcare and have a permanent job.
    President Trump, despite his faults, which are plain to see (other presidents made a better job of covering up but were I suspect, just as self centered) along with Mrs May have identified an underclass of people within our societies who need to be put first and I’m so glad they have started to do so.

    • Thank you for this: “Over here I have become tired of economically stable and successful people telling others who are much more disadvantaged that they should show christian charity to others. These are the people who lose out on jobs to others willing to work for lower wages, have overcrowded and increasingly desperate health services, overcrowded schools and are priced out of any vacant houses. These people bear the brunt of all of this not the people who are able to afford a house, choose a school, afford private healthcare and have a permanent job.”

      You hit on a point that forever eludes the Democrats and other progressive types in the U.S.A. Politics here are increasingly rooted in identify, and it is quite a misfortune that no politician connects the miseries afflicting the disaffected white working class with the very similar miseries afflicting African Americans and other minority groups. If identity could be more understood as rooted in class rather than race or other heritage, a rather powerful coalition could emerge that could not only speak truth to power, but fully engage and take power. The interest of Power is to keep us divided and bickering among ourselves in the interest of preserving Power’s own position.

      Refugees become collateral damage. They become targets of fear and hatred to distract us from other concerns. And our souls wither further as we indulge our baser selves.

      What most intrigues me is that one particular religious identity (U.S. conservative Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian) allies itself so closely to Caesar; indeed, giving so much to Caesar that one wonders what left they have for God. That never ends well, and given nearly 2,000 years of historical confirmation, one wonders why they have yet to figure it out. Which calls to mind an old joke, that Christianity is largely a 2,000 year effort to find loopholes in the Sermon on the Mount.

    • You have identified a completely false zero sum game. For starters, the number of refugees the U.S. accepts is so small as to have a completely negligible effect on labor markets. Number #2, the effect of immigrants on economies is undeniably positive, as immigrants create a ton of jobs. There is not some set amount of jobs available, and immigrants take more of the cake leaving less for native born citizens. That’s not how the economy works.

  • My recommendations would be 1) to Trump – ignore the letter because Brettler mischaracterizes what it means to be American and 2) to Brettler – stop weaponizing Scripture. By posting it, you seem to be saying Trump is wrong to take any measure to control the flow of immigrants because the Bible says so.

    Pete – I don’t know why you wade into these waters. I have two main issues with the post and the letter.
    First – It seems to contradict your view of how we should read Scriptures. Picking a passage and then extrapolating it to a modern day dilemma, is not helpful. Or worse, taking a position and then finding Scripture to support it. I can almost certainly find a passage about the importance of national security and the value of fences and borders and make a counter point. I value a leader who emphasizes the role immigration plays in the spread of terrorism, a modern day sociological cancer that is not addressed specifically in Scripture. Brettler just ignores it. After all, 9/11 was a breakdown in controlling who we let in. He seems to imply that any stance to limit or more tightly control immigration is anti-immigrant. How does this help discourse? I have weaponized the Bible for my point, just as Brettler does. I would think you would argue against this approach.
    Secondly, he casually claims this: “After all, rugged individualism and self-reliance are core American values.” If by core he means there at the beginning, or even the dominant values today, he is 100% wrong and his is putting up a strawmodel to argue against. If you examine our founding and the fight for independence, it was for 1) self-rule and 2) individual treatment under the law, not individualism. America in the late 1700s was all about the collective and converting a sense of regional level interdependence to national interdependence. We certainly have generations who are more selfish (most say boomers), but they are quickly followed by generations with a greater sense of a commitment to community. Self-reliance is also bogus. If he means entrepreneurism, I would say yes, and most entrepreneurs recognize the values of teams and partnerships and are thankful for the environment that let them take risks.

    All to say – why are you promoting a technique that seems to contradict how you want us ‘normal people’ to consider Scripture? It seems as if you break your rules for certain political issues, and when you do you are one-sided.

  • In his open letter to Trump, Marc Brettler makes the following main points: (1) “as individuals—whether private citizens or public officials—we are each responsible for the members of the larger community and polity.” (2) “Obligations to the less fortunate: to the hungry, the poor, and the needy; other biblical texts add foreigners to that list. This is the role that each of us as private citizens must foster, and a role that each and every government official must advance.”

    Marc should have written this as an open letter to the church because these are the responsibilities of the church and not the US government. The US government is not an Old Testament theocracy. Trump is commander-in-chief, not pastor/priest-in-chief. He has a secular job, not a religious one. One of his top duties is to protect the national security of our nation, similar to what the state of Israel does today. Therefore, he is doing exactly what he should be doing with his executive order of extreme vetting.

    The New York Times reports that since September 2014, ISIS and its supporters have attacked 17 countries outside their Iraqi and Syrian strongholds. If ISIS could enter the USA freely without fear of being caught by immigration vetting, they could mount a coordinated attack on the USA from within the USA that would make the European ISIS attacks pale in comparison. I readily admit that not all Muslims are ISIS members or supporters. On the other hand, ISIS is part of Islam and not any other religion. So if I have limited resources to vet immigrants (and the US does), who would I target? Muslims…or people from Muslim nations if you prefer. You can call this religious discrimination or profiling if you like. I call it smart national security with limited resources.

    • Dennis, a large majority, particularly the more notable terror attacks (Nov ’15 Paris attacks and San Bernardino, CA) were from homegrown terrorists. Terrorists that were born and raised in the United States. To quote,

      “Since 9/11, no one has been killed in this country in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from any of the seven countries,” – William C. Banks, director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University College of Law.

      Nobody wants terrorists in their country. Nobody is against keeping terrorists out. What people are against are poorly thought out (even if at all!) decisions that hurt the innocent more than the bad apples they are trying to target.

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