Statements from Harvard and Union

I'm sharing side by side two public statements recently released in response to Trump's ban on Muslim immigration and refugees.  The first is from Harvard president Drew Faust on behalf of the university. The second is from the Union Theological Seminary president and faculty.  They both unequivocally oppose Trump's fascist order, but they are strikingly different in tone, style, and substance.  Their differences reveal the vastly different value systems represented by the two schools: the technocratic paradigm of globalism, capitalism, and neoliberalism on one hand, and Christian-centered prophetic justice on the other hand.  To be clear, I applaud both schools for their responses, but I think the differences are too interesting to ignore.

The Office of President

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

Last Friday’s executive order imposing restrictions on travel to the United States has provoked uncertainty and escalating anxiety among many people in our own University and others.  Although the situation remains in flux and doubt, I write to share information about resources available to students and faculty and to underscore that our international students and scholars are essential to our identity and excellence.  We are all Harvard.

In times of unsettling change, we look toward our deepest values and ideals.  Among them is the recognition that drawing people together from across the nation and around the world is a paramount source of our University’s strength.  Thousands of students and scholars and visitors come to Harvard each year from all over the globe—to study, to teach, to propel our research enterprise, to join in conferences and colloquia, to share insights and abilities that transcend nationality.  Thousands more leave Harvard each year to travel abroad, learning from experiences they could not replicate here, gaining insight into cultures and perspectives different from their own, visiting colleagues and family and friends, forming and sustaining the human bonds essential to mutual understanding.

Our robust commitment to internationalism is not an incidental or dispensable accessory.  It is integral to all we do, in the laboratory, in the classroom, in the conference hall, in the world.  It fuels the capacity of universities to spur innovation, to advance scholarship and scientific discovery, and to help address society’s hardest challenges.  It is a crucial ingredient in making American higher education a singular national asset, the destination of choice for countless scholars and students whose contributions serve our nation and our world.  Especially at a time of sharp divisions at home and abroad, we must do all we can to sustain the ability of U.S. universities to bring people from around the world to our campuses and to enable people from our campuses to engage the world.  Nearly half of the deans of Harvard’s schools are immigrants—from India, China, Northern Ireland, Jamaica, and Iran.  Benefiting from the talents and energy, the knowledge and ideas of people from nations around the globe is not just a vital interest of the University; it long has been, and it fully remains, a vital interest of our nation. 

As I write, we are still working to understand the concrete implications of the new travel restrictions, and we are following related developments in the courts.  But the disruption and disorientation flowing from these restrictions are palpable and distressing.  While questions may at this point be far more apparent than answers, the restrictions are already posing barriers to scholars and students seeking to enter the country and are inhibiting others from pursuing important travel abroad, fearful about their ability to return.  Amid this widespread doubt and unease, we will continue to insist that policymakers take full account of how fundamentally our universities depend on the ability of people to travel across borders without undue constraint.  National security is, of course, an essential element of our nation’s immigration policy.  But we are confident those considerations can be fairly addressed while avoiding the large-scale disruption and distress that the new restrictions portend—and while honoring the ideals of openness, nondiscrimination, and opportunity that our universities and our nation hold dear.  We urge the administration, the Congress, and the courts to address these concerns without delay. 

Meanwhile, we are taking immediate steps to better inform and assist the members of our community in the face of the new restraints on travel.  The Harvard International Office (HIO) has written to Harvard’s international students, faculty, and staff offering immediate advice in light of the executive order.  The HIO is available as a resource to all community members with questions or concerns.  The University’s Global Support Services has likewise offered guidance and stands ready to assist community members who are already abroad and may experience difficulties in seeking to return.  This Wednesday at 4:00 p.m., the University will hold a town hall in Science Center B, where representatives of the HIO, the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, and Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic will offer information and perspectives on the present situation and take questions from all interested members of the Harvard community.  Our federal relations staff are aggressively pursuing these issues with contacts in Washington and locally, and have been in touch directly with the Massachusetts congressional delegation, state leaders, and city officials in Boston and Cambridge to convey our grave concern. HIO staff are working assiduously to develop travel guidance with whatever clarity can be achieved given the circumstances.  This weekend, the Association of American Universities, of which Harvard is a member, issued a statement expressing deep concern about the new executive order.  I intend to keep working vigorously with my counterparts in other universities—both to share information and to advocate approaches meant to sustain the international flow of students and scholars, and thereby safeguard a vital national interest.

Our undocumented students are also experiencing the present moment with anxiety, even fear, in view of reports that federal policy toward them may change.  Having strongly advocated for the DREAM Act, I have joined other college and university presidents in urging that the federal government preserve DACA—the program prescribing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—and that Congress incorporate its protections into the proposed legislation known as the BRIDGE Act.  With others in the higher education community, we will continue to press this case, hopeful that the rumored changes will not come to pass.  At the same time, we are strengthening our efforts to aid students potentially affected by such changes.  I detailed our expanding efforts in a letter to the community on November 28.

Since then, with support from my office, Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic has amplified its capacity in this area by engaging a new, full-time staff attorney specially focused on representing and advising undocumented students in the Harvard community.  We have launched and are further developing a website pointing toward resources of particular interest to undocumented students and their friends and colleagues.  We have initiated several in-person information sessions and webinars, as well as training sessions to inform key staff about the concerns facing undocumented students and about how they can help.  This work will continue, and we will calibrate our next steps as circumstances evolve.

Let me also take this opportunity to note the anxieties and concerns prevalent among members of our community who are also members of the Islamic faith.  Ours is a nation founded and built on the bedrock of religious pluralism and religious freedom.  Our University embraces that commitment, in the spirit not of mere tolerance but of genuine inclusion.  We must not and will not conflate people of a venerable faith with people predisposed to acts of terrorism and violence.  And, recognizing the special concerns of the Muslims among us at this moment in our national life, I believe we must pursue more tangible ways to support their distinctive needs.  With this in mind, at the recommendation of the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, I have initiated a search for Harvard’s first Muslim chaplain, who will serve full-time to provide guidance and support to members of the Islamic faith and to join colleagues in promoting a wider sense of community and understanding among members of different spiritual traditions at Harvard.  I hope that this new appointment will bring a welcome measure of further institutional support for valued members of our University who have particular reason to feel a sense of vulnerability at this time.

I have focused this letter on just a few of the issues and challenges brought to the fore by Friday’s executive order and related developments.  As we address those matters, we have a close eye on other potential changes in the policy landscape affecting universities, and we must work energetically to advance a far wider range of vital interests—in the progress of university-based science and in the vitality of the humanities and the arts, in the expansion of educational opportunity and in the effort to redress inequality, in seeking ways for people with starkly different views to speak and to listen across widening divides, and in striving for a shared commitment to the pursuit of truth.  These and other present concerns are anything but endnotes; they lie at the core of our University.

In these times of change, I hope and trust that all of us committed to the strength of American higher education can pursue these efforts together.  Let us do so—to borrow the words of the poet Seamus Heaney, one of Harvard’s most beloved visitors from other shores—with our gates unbarred.



Drew Faust


Union News  


Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York issued the following public statement condemning President Trump’s Executive Order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries and suspending temporarily the admission of refugees into the United States.

It was with anger, fear, and a sense of fierce resolve that Union Theological Seminary received news on Saturday of President Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim countries. As a proudly Christian-founded and now multi-religious seminary, we are a community of scholars and students devoted to studying the religious and humanist values that have, for centuries, nurtured and guided the peace and well-being human persons and communities. This Executive Order makes a mockery of these values. It should appall and disturb all people of good conscience and faith and must be resisted at every turn.  

The ban is, at its heart, deeply un-democratic. Its aim is to shatter dreams and destroy lives, not to encourage broad-based human flourishing. In this, it repudiates what is perhaps most noble about our country, the fact that immigrants are invited to come, thrive, and contribute to our American Dream, in all its vibrancy, hopes, and flaws. Democracy affirms respect and concern for human beings; democracy insists that human beings can never be objects.   

This ban is an insult to all who have worked to build our country, and to those who have given their lives to assure and expand these freedoms. It by no means reflects the will of vast numbers of Americans, and it is an affront, particularly, to the basic religious freedoms that our Constitution vows to honor and protect.

In addition, it is clear this administration is actively overtaking federal institutions in such a way that they will not have traditional oversight in matters of security and war. This makes the opportunity for expansion of their egregious policies very real and our concern very appropriate.

The destructive impact of this ban cannot be underestimated, even for those not directly affected by it. It has created an environment in which a group of people are being singled out, stigmatized, and targeted for punitive action. As history shows us, this bigoted branding of a whole religion and of entire countries is a deadly, cynical, and decadent political game in which there can be no winners, only wasted lives and broken communities. 

The Trump immigration ban did not emerge from thin air, but rests upon tacit, pernicious, and pervasive Islamophobia that permeates the country’s public rhetoric and culture. The government has cultivated an environment that permits suspicion and bias towards Muslims, Muslim immigrants, and refugees. Many people, even liberals and progressives, have hemmed and hawed over this fact for too long. The time to unequivocally reject Islamophobia as a form of bias in clear words and actions, including knowledge and protest, is now.

And so, we lift up the long tradition of Islam that teaches that the diversity of God’s world is a gift to humankind to be treasured and never abused. The more diverse we are, the richer our world and the happier our lives. We lift up the Buddhist call to compassion in all things and its reminder of the brutal damage that an unchecked ego, like President Trump’s, can inflict upon others. We also put before you the many humanist traditions that remind us constantly of our ethical responsibility to work towards the well being of all people and of the earth.   

As a community, we welcome and protect a marvelous and gifted diversity of students, including DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, Muslim students and faculty from not just the U.S. but around the world, LGBTQ students, students who are devoutly pro-choice, students who stood at Standing Rock, and students who marched with Black Lives Matter.

We at Union cannot help but wonder, “When will President Trump come for us - or for you?” That we can even imagine such real-life possibilities exposes the damage that this order has already inflicted upon the hearts and minds of so many. In truth, when the Trump Administration tries to “divide and conquer” as with this immigration ban, they are already coming for us all. So, inter-community solidarity is critically needed in the face of this evil edict.

For these reasons, we call on all people of faith and of moral commitment to join the growing New American Resistance and to fight these unjust actions.

We are particularly concerned that the sentiments behind this order are praised by many Christian Americans who believe such action is faithful and Godly. This is wrong, and should be denounced, theologically as well as politically, in every church and faith community across the land. At the heart of the Christian tradition is the call to love one another, to welcome those who are strangers, who are different, who suffer, who are in need. Indeed, turning your back on anyone, be they friend or foe, is an action directly refused by Jesus. So should it be by all Christians who seek to follow him.

Because of this, we ask our Christian brothers and sisters who support this action to return to the pages of their Bibles and read its words again, closely and with open hearts.  

Hear the word of the Lord who speaks through the Hebrew Prophets and harshly condemns those who would shun the stranger and sojourner, or pour wrath upon those who suffer. Hear today, the voices of our Jewish sisters and brothers who remind us ever-anew of the power of this biblical vision. 

We ask that you read, again, the New Testament Gospels, especially Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. The message of love and of freedom for all God’s children is strong and unswerving.

Please, we ask, do not close your eyes to the truth of your faith and do not turn your back on the God who calls us to build communities marked by love, justice, and mercy.  

Please, we beseech you, do not be fooled by President Trump. This ban is ungodly and dangerous, and the scope of its heresy will no doubt expand in the days ahead. Imagine if such a ban was released against Christians in “Christian countries” deemed dangerous. Would you not see its evil immediately?  

Please, we pray that you will reject these forces of evil, stand against the soul-harming hatred it breeds, and join us in the movement to stop the harm.

As an international, ecumenical, and interreligious seminary, we at Union recognize that, now more than ever, the social, moral, and political issues we face are global in scope. This ban impacts international students studying in the U.S., our students going to other countries, and scholarly and artistic participation in vital international conversations, conferences, and teaching. We need a vibrant exchange of ideas among people from all over the world and from various religious perspectives to develop effective, compassionate, and just responses to crises.  

We at Union, along with many other people of faith and of conscience, around the country, and throughout the world, promise to stand against these policies and to uphold religious and humanist values that celebrate the fullness of human family, in all its magnificent diversity. Moreover, we promise to continue cultivating forms of leadership in our students and amongst our faculty that count well-honed wisdom and compassionate care among the highest values of leadership.  

There are many of us, our voices are loud, our commitments are strong, our will is as tough as steel, and our faith, unswerving. 

We’re all in this together. 


Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of the Faculty, Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy
Rev. Fred Davie, 
Executive-Vice President

Sarah Azaransky, Assistant Professor of Social Ethics
Mary C. Boys, Dean of Academic Affairs and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology
David M. Carr, Professor of Old Testament
Cláudio Carvalhaes, Associate Professor of Worship
Tara Hyun Kyung Chung, Associate Professor of Ecumenical Studies
James H. Cone, Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology
Pamela Cooper-White, Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion
Samuel Cruz, Assistant Professor of Church and Society
Karenna Gore, Director, Center for Earth Ethics
Roger Haight, Scholar in Residence
Esther J. Hamori, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Jeremy F. Hultin, Visiting Associate Professor of Biblical Languages
Brigitte Kahl, Professor of New Testament
Jerusha T. Lamptey, Assistant Professor of Islam and Ministry
Daisy L. Machado, Professor of Church History
John A. McGuckin, Ane Marie and Bent Emil Nielsen Professor in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History & Professor of Byzantine Christian Studies, Columbia University
Troy Messenger, Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Worship
Aliou C. Niang, Assistant Professor of New Testament
Su Yon Pak, Senior Director and Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-Based Education
Jan Rehmann, Visiting Professor for Critical Theory and Social Analysis, Director of the Ph.D. Program
Gregory Snyder, Senior Director of Buddhist Studies, President & Senior Dharma Teacher, Brooklyn Zen Center
Liz Theoharis, Co-Director of the Kairos Center and a Founder and the Coordinator of the Poverty Initiative
John J. Thatamanil, Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions
Lisa L. Thompson, Assistant Professor of Homiletics
Janet R. Walton, Professor of Worship
Andrea White, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion




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