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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about life and death.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says that God gives life, and those who believe have passed “from death to life.” (John 5:19-29) But in the Old Testament reading, the prophet anguishes, “My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. . . I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void. . . and all its cities were laid in ruins.” (Jeremiah 4:19-20,23,26)

I thought of these verses yesterday – the sixth anniversary of the war that began in Syria, March 15, 2011 — while listening to a prominent Middle Eastern Christian leader reflect on the catastrophic humanitarian disaster that continues to unfold in Syria. Hundreds of thousands killed. Millions uprooted from their homes. Cities like Aleppo nearly destroyed. (See World Vision’s Syrian refugee crisis facts.) “It could be 50 years or more before Syria gets back to where it was before the war,” lamented Dr. Riad Jarjour, who grew up in Homs, Syria.

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Syrians refugees in Zaatari camp (northern Jordan)

Dr. Jarjour, who for decades has been a leader for Christian-Muslim dialogue, said the war has resulted in increased tensions between Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims.

Sadly, Mr. President, your strong words and proposed travel ban – which are heard in the Middle East as sweepingly anti-Muslim – are further stoking Christian-Muslim tensions and only making Christians in the Middle East feel yet more vulnerable. Dr. Jarjour appealed for a more nuanced approach to rooting out an ideology of violent extremism.

What political and religious leaders sometimes seem to forget is that their words, and the policies they enact, have life and death consequences for ordinary people.  People live or die because of the decisions leaders make about war, about who to hate, about the freedom to cross borders, about health care and a host of other issues.

Choose life, Mr. President. Choose life.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler

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