Faith

Thousands of Evangelicals Express 'Deep Concern' Over Trump Refugee Order

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds his bible while speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Evangelical Christian leaders from across the United States signed on to a petition urging President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to reconsider the immigration order which institutes a temporary stay on refugees from seven countries of terror concern and which decreases the number of refugees allowed in the U.S. on a yearly basis.

“As Christian pastors and leaders, we are deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement,” the petition stated. As of Thursday evening, more than 3,000 people have signed it online, along with 100 evangelical pastors and leaders whose names have been published in an advertisement Wednesday in The Washington Post. Those 100 names include at least one pastor from every state in the U.S.

The leaders included Timothy Keller, author of The Reason for God: Faith in an Age of Skepticism, his wife Kathy, and the avid writer Max Lucado, among many others. Organized by the organization World Relief, the document also bore the signatures of World Relief’s CEO, Tim Breene, and its president, Scott Arbeiter.

The order itself has been blocked, and on Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously denied the Trump administration’s motion to reinstate it.

The petition based its concern over Trump’s order on the Christian duty to care for “the least of these.” “Our care for the oppressed and suffering is rooted in the call of Jesus to ‘love our neighbor as we love ourselves.’ In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbor’ includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.”

The petition continued (emphasis added).

As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope. …

This executive order dramatically reduces the overall number of refugees allowed this year, robbing families of hope and a future. And it could well cost them their lives.

First, when Trump’s executive order reduces the number of refugees allowed in 2017, it is not itself “robbing families of hope and a future.” The forces of evil in the countries from which the refugees come are already doing that, and the U.S., by refusing to accept them, does not thereby become complicit in the violence robbing these poor people of their homes. It is arguable that peaceful countries like the U.S. should accept large numbers of refugees, but this public policy involves many factors.

It seems the sticking point comes on the assumption that America is presently secure. Trump’s order rests on the idea that the refugee vetting program is insufficient, and indeed there have been at least 60 people born in the seven countries covered by Trump’s immigration stay convicted of terror-related offenses since September 11, 2001, The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York reported.

The current vetting process is thorough, and Trump’s order is not beyond scrutiny, but the signers of the letter are arguing that America is secure and Trump’s administration is arguing that it is not. The signers may indeed be right, but it is arguably the state’s role (not that of the church) to determine whether the country is safe and whether that security requires a revision to immigration law.

The church’s role, as the petition went on to describe, is to reach out and serve the refugees who are in its power to serve.

Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.

This willingness to serve more refugees is very laudable, and indeed it is the calling of the church. The petition also emphasized the churches’ willingness to serve Muslim refugees, in addition to Christians who have suffered from the cruel persecution in the Middle East.

Again, this servant mentality toward all people, regardless of religion, is laudable and the calling of Jesus Christ to all Christians everywhere. How it translates to public policy remains unclear, however, especially given the Trump administration’s view of refugees from countries of terror concern as potential terrorist threats.

The petition concluded with a declaration that “as Christians, we are committed to praying for our elected officials.” Specifically, the Christians signing the petition pray “that God would grand President Trump and all our leaders divine wisdom as they direct the course of our nation,” and they pray “for the vulnerable individuals whom their decisions directly impact.”

While it would be easy to interpret this petition as a political attack on Trump’s administration, some cautioned against taking a divisive view of its message. It might also be premature to think that evangelical Christians, vilified for their support of Trump in the election, might have presented this petition to clear their name in a sense, by clarifying that they do not support all of his policies.

While World Relief did not respond to a request for comment, a parishioner at the Falls Church Anglican (TFCA), a church whose head pastor, John Yates, signed the petition, did. “I think we’re all caught in a situation where people read more into things than is there,” the anonymous member of the TFCA congregation told PJ Media.

“Nobody is thinking or listening — it’s all raw emotion and deciding what someone means based on one’s own anger and fear,” the TFCA parishioner added.

This petition, while opposing a specific policy, also stated its positive intentions for President Trump, and the church’s commitment to serve any refugees welcomed into the U.S. If Christians in ministry were to dissent on the immigration order, this would be the way to do so.