As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
“Compassion and security are not mutually exclusive”, Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief said. Meanwhile, Franklin Graham and other evangelical leaders support Trump.
The United States will shut its doors to thousands displaced by conflict in the Middle East, at least temporarily, due to an executive order President Donald Trump signed last Friday.
Obama administration’s goal was to resettle 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, the highest goal since 1995, according to Pew Research Center. But it is expected that Trump’s administration will halve that goal to 50,000.
CHRISTIAN AID GROUPS, AGAINST THE ORDER
Christian aid groups which work in that resettlement mourned and criticized the president’s decision. The order blocks the admissions of all refugees in the next four months, as well as the entry of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.
Those countries banned are: Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.
“Our concern is that this action really does further traumatize a group of people that have already borne so much tragedy”, said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, one of nine agencies that partner with the federal government to resettle refugees. “The human toll is really crushing”, he added.
85,000 REFUGEES LAST YEAR
World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), took on about 11,000 cases last year—a record high since 1999—and had almost 1,200 churches volunteer to help.
Syria, where Daesh violence has displaced more than a million residents, was the No. 2 country of origin among the nearly 85,000 refugees the United States admitted last year. Syrians comprised 15 percent of refugees in the 2016 fiscal year, according to Pew. Iraq (12%), Somalia (11%), and Iran (4%) also made the top 10 list.
A majority of refugees that World Relief works with, more than 70 percent, come to be united with family already in America.
“WE HAVE NEVER HAD AN OPORTUNITY LIKE THIS”
Earlier this week, the We Welcome Refugees project exceeded its goal of 10,000 signatures on its online solidarity statement. The initiative, which includes World Vision, Willow Creek Community Church, Q, OM, and the World Evangelical Alliance, in addition to World Relief and the NAE, urged elected officials “to work with welcoming communities to assist refugees wherever they are in tangible and practical ways.”
When the refugee program resumes, the Trump administration plans to prioritize refugees who have undergone persecution as a religious minority. For the Muslim-majority countries where most refugees comes from, this would benefit Christians (and other minority faiths, like Yazidis) and penalize Muslims.
“We have never had an opportunity like we have right now, to reach people who are coming to our shores, in many cases from places we have no access to. The risk that we have right now is that we are closing the doors to the very people that we say we want to share the gospel with”, said Arbeiter.
“Most evangelical Christians are not thinking as Christians on the issue, most see newcomers as a threat or a burden. Only 4 in 10 see a gospel opportunity”, explained Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s church training specialist.
“COMPASSION AND SECURITY ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE”
The Trump administration justified the policy changes, stating security concerns: “in order to protect Americans, we must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward our country and its founding principles.”
Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief, acknowledges the security risks, but believes the administration’s action goes overboard.
“We live in a dangerous world and it is right that we take security seriously. The American people are rightly asking for transparency on the measures taken to safeguard our homeland”, Breene pointed out.
“However, World Relief does not believe compassion and security have to be mutually exclusive. While it is wise to always work to increase effectiveness, a lengthy and complete ban is not necessary to meet our commitment to security, transparency and compassion.”
ARE WE WILLING TO HELP?
Advocates for refugees point out that the massive and chaotic flow of refugees into Europe doesn’t compare to the smaller and more rigorous process in the United States, where government agencies vet candidates before approval.
“Most refugees from the Middle East are women and children who have suffered the assaults of ISIS terrorists and civil war”, said NAE president Leith Anderson. “We have the opportunity to rescue, help, and bless some of the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable families.”
“The question for the American Christian is: Will we speak out on behalf of those who are running from the very terror that we are rightly trying to put an end to? People who are running from Mosul and Aleppo and a thousand other places on fire?”, he asked.
And continued: “Or would we say, ‘I am not willing to give up even the smallest fraction of my safety to welcome people who have been vetted very carefully, who have been proven as a remarkable population of people. Will I not make room for them?’”
AMERICAN CHRISTIANS AND THE REFUGEES
Despite evangelical organizations’ involvement in resettling refugees, not all Christians remain enthusiastic about the cause, and some share Trump’s national security concerns.
Last January, LifeWay Research found that Protestant congregations in America were twice as likely to fear refugees as help them, though senior pastors overwhelmingly believed that “Christians have a responsibility to care sacrificially for refugees and foreigners.”
Another survey reported that the number of committed Christians praying for and taking action on behalf of refugees dropped in 2016.
SOME CHRISTIAN LEADERS SUPPORT TRUMP´S ORDER
Meanwhile, Franklin Graham, the president of the evangelical relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, and other evangelical leaders have defended the decision.
“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue. We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but… there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful”, Graham told the Huffington Post.
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said on Twitter that Trump’s plan was “sound,” advocating that the goverment limit immigration as a protective measure while the church continue to minister to refugees. “Both are needed,” he wrote.
The president of Christian Freedom International, Jim Jacobson, celebrated the decision: “The Trump administration has given hope to persecuted Christians that their cases will finally be considered.”
But two-thirds of Protestant senior pastors (67%) believe the United States can balance national security interests with compassion when assisting refugees, according to LifeWay’s 2016 survey.