Last night President Trump opened his address to Congress by proclaiming that "The state of our union is strong," followed by his assessment of his agenda in 2017, and laying out a vision for what 2018 might hold. We feel it is appropriate to provide our own brief review of the United States' impact on our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world through their own words.
Ban on travelers from Muslim majority countries and reduction in refugee resettlement
On the president's decision to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the United States, and to block travelers from seven Muslim majority countries, we heard from Bishop Emeritus Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land:
I am worried, not only for those who can no longer enter your country, but for the safety of my neighbors in this region. I am afraid that the decision to deny entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries while suggesting preferential treatment for Christians from those same countries will be harmful to many smaller communities in the region. This approach will be especially harmful to Arab Christians. In the Arab world, Christians have a long history of living side by side with our Muslim neighbors. We reject any move to divide Arab society along religious lines, and continue to see ourselves as deserving equal citizenship with equal rights and equal responsibilities.
I am worried, because I myself am a refugee, and know firsthand the struggles refugee families face. At the same time, as a Lutheran bishop, I know that turning away refugees of any religion contradicts the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself was also a refugee, who sought refuge and safety with his family in Egypt. Throughout his life, through his teaching and his actions, Jesus showed concern for the stranger and the outcast. Read the full letter
As a result of this decision, approximately 80,000 refugees who would have received safety and the opportunity to work for a new life in the United States, have been left in refugee camps or have opted for more dangerous routes to escape persecution. The lack of American leadership in the program was cited by many other governments as an excuse to reduce their resettlement efforts as well. Islamophobic retweets by the president also prompted rebuke from American faith leaders.
Relocation of US Embassy to Jerusalem
The President also further hindered the possibility of peace between Palestinians and Israelis with his decision to relocate the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. A move that was widely decried by partners and the international community. This action provoked the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem to write an open letter to the president saying:
Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny. The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps liberate the hearts of all people that live within it from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing. Read the full letter
In a letter from the South Africa Synod of the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa, partners responded saying:
We found his announcement of treating Jerusalem as a capital city of the Israeli government manipulative and misleading. This utterance insinuates that Jerusalem only belongs to the State of Israel and that Palestinians are aliens in the area. Nothing could be further from the truth than President Trump’s dangerous insinuation. His utterances feed into the wrong notions that Palestinians are not children of Abraham hence aliens in the area. Read the full letter
Response to Hurricane Maria
Last night the president also called on Americans to continue to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico where, four months after Hurricane Maria, tens of thousands of citizens remain without power. There was no hint of irony in his statement, even though just the day before, aid to Puerto Rico had been dramatically reduced. In the midst of the worst disaster on the island in recent memory, Global Ministries and partners responded immediately to the needs of the communities. A webinar was held with Miguel Antonio Morales, General Pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ in Puerto Rico), prayers were lifted up from Rev. Edward Rivera-Santiago, General Pastor, United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico, and we were moved by the testimonios, of the individuals serving as wounded healers. Much work remains to be done, and you can hear a vision for a more hurricane resilient and sustainable future for Puerto Rico in a webinar on February 15th, with Juan Rosario Moldanado of Amaneser 2025.
Use of racist language describing Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries
Partners in several countries replied with words of thanks when Global Ministries shared our letter to the President with them, calling on him to apologize for his hurtful and offensive descriptions of Haiti, El Salvador, and the countries of Africa. The affirmation that "We are Family...No Matter What" prompted many partners to reply with messages echoing that our bond as brothers and sisters would not be overshadowed by the words of government leaders.
Consideration of military intervention in Venezuela
In Venezuela, as the country sought a way forward in the midst of economic uncertainty and political instability, President Trump openly considered military actions against the current government. This prompted a letter from Global Ministries and the leadership of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. While the military option was not further pursued, the words of that letter still bear an important reminder:
Global Ministries has been engaged in a relationship of solidarity and accompaniment with the people of Venezuela for more than 60 years. As such, we have walked alongside Venezuelans throughout various moments in the history of that nation. As we watched the news of the recent election, we would like to share with you our deep concern for the people of Venezuela and their future. We are deeply convinced that any US military intervention in Venezuela would exacerbate the current crisis and could bring back the darkest pages in the history of the country when the military overthrew civil governments to install dictatorships and de facto presidencies. Every time Venezuela has suffered a military episode in its recent times, the lives of the poorest and the most vulnerable population have been severely damaged. Read the full letterRead more
Over 600,000 Muslims and 500 Hindus have fled to Bangladesh from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, and it is reported more are waiting to flee. The influx started 25 August 2017 and such a sudden inflow of people has put Bangladesh under huge pressure, which could cause massive social and economic disorder. The situation is too devastating and is beyond manageable.Read more
Association for Theological Education in Myanmar (ATEM) is an ecumenical network and was started by the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC) on 12 May 1986. It began with 12 member churches and eight theological institutions stating a clear vision based on Eph. 4: 11-13, “Equipping the Saints for Divine Mission”. The membership numbers have increased year after year. Currently there are 34 member schools working in the network. Out of 34 schools, 22 are Yangon-based whereas 12 are regional-based schools. ATEM works on faculty development for member schools, organizing training/workshops/seminars, providing resource materials for member schools, and development of libraries.
Myanmar Council of Churches is a Global Ministries Partner. However, it is difficult to participate in projects in Myanmar under the current military regime and Global Ministries has thus far been unwilling to participate in any way that might be construed as support for the repressive government.
Myanmar borders five nations: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar achieved its independence from Great Britain in 1947 and formed a democracy, in name, under Prime Minister U Nu. The creation of a democracy in this multiethnic state where there was little understanding of western-style government proved difficult, especially in the face of extreme domestic social, political and economic challenges. In recent years the government has been run by the Burmese Socialist Program Party which is a front for the military. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San (one of the leaders of the struggle for independence from the British), is leading a pro-democracy movement, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and in 1991 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. In 1990, the NLD overwhelmingly won in elections which were then ignored by the military. She has spent much of the last 15 years under house arrest or virtual house arrest. The government has shown no tolerance for her political activities. Myanmar is perhaps the poorest of the Southern Asia nations. The name of the nation is somewhat controversial. Its historic name of Burma was rejected by the current government in favor of the name Myanmar. Burma was a name that reflected the dominance of the ethnic Burmese, only one of many ethnic groups native to the nation. These include Burman (68%), Shan (9%), Karen (7%) Rakhine (4%), Chinese (3%) and Mon (2%) as well as several others. Myanmar is not universally accepted as the nationΓÇÖs name either, because the government who renamed the nation is a repressive military regime that has devoted itself to eliminating any and all opposition groups. Millions of its citizens have been displaced, and are living as refugees either within the country (internally displaced persons) or outside the country. Many have fled to refugee camps in Thailand which are monitored by the Burma Border Consortium and other religious groups and nongovernmental organizations. In 2001, the estimate was that 630,000 Myanmar refugees had fled their homeland. Most of these are in Thailand. Thailand is not happy with the situation and is anxious to repatriate the refugees back to Myanmar, but the political situation is still volatile and the refugees cannot be assured of safety if they return. Myanmar is a nation in distress. The military government seems focused solely on squashing dissent and unwilling or unable to address the weakening economy, inadequate health systems, human rights abuses and the prevalence of human trafficking. The conditions of life for most citizens are extremely poor. Many have no reliable access to safe drinking water or medical care. The International Red Cross reports that there have been up to 31,000 persons held in various prisons, labor camps and ΓÇ£guest housesΓÇ¥. Partners Myanmar Council of Churches Myanmar Council of Churches is a Global Ministries Partner. However, it is difficult to participate in projects in Myanmar under the current military regime and Global Ministries has thus far been unwilling to participate in any way that might be construed as support for the repressive government.Read more
The minority communities of Myanmar (Burma) are among the most oppressed in the world. Global Ministries is offering some reason to hope.Read more