The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
“As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering”. Signatories include Timothy and Cathy Keller, Ed Stetzer, Max Lucado and Bill and Lynne Hybels.
One hundred evangelical leaders, representing every state in the nation, have signed on to a letter to President Trump and Vice-President Pence, expressing concerns over the President’s executive order temporarily banning refugees.
"As Christian pastors and leaders, we are deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement. As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now", they wrote.
WELL KNOWN LEADERS SIGN THE LETTER
The letter, published as a full page ad in The Washington Post, has been affirmed by many of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the country including authors Tim Keller and his wife Kathy, Southern Baptists Ed Stetzer and Daniel Akin, Bill and Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and popular author Max Lucado.
The letter was also joined by evangelical leaders who are immigrants, including Eugene Cho, a pastor in Seattle, and Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
“My hope is that this will not be seen as a controversial position and that as evangelicals our allegiance would not be to partisanship but to our gospel convictions”, Salguero said in an email.
The evangelical ministry World Relief, which is behind the initiative, said that more than 500 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders have added their signatures to the letter that will be delivered to Trump.
“WE ALSO WELCOME VULNERABLE MUSLIMS”
On January 27, Trump issued an executive order that temporarily restricts travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries, suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for four months, indefinitely bars Syrian refugees and reduces the number of refugees the United States will accept from 110,000 to 50,000.
A federal appeals court is considering the measure, and several states and legal organizations have sued to stop its implementation.
Trump said in an interview with CBN that persecuted Christians would be given priority, an issue the leaders respond to in their ad.
"While we are eager to welcome persecuted Christians, we also welcome vulnerable Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith at all. 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."
“COMPASSION AND SECURITY CAN COEXIST”
The evangelical leaders are aware that “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.”
But the ad also states that “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.”
“SPEAK UP FOR THE REFUGEES”
“While politicians debate and courts deliberate, we are Christians who pray for refugees”, said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
“It is not new for the church to use its voice on behalf of those who have none. It is part of our historic call and identity [...] This letter is evidence that the church will not abandon its calling to serve the most vulnerable”, said World Relief President Scott Arbeiter.
Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College, and recently hosted an evangelical summit on refugee ministry explained that “this is not the usual list of left-leaning, social justice-oriented, religious leaders, it is a surprising list of prominent evangelicals who care enough about this issue to use their leadership platform to speak out.”
“I hope the Trump administration hears our concerns that we have a safe and compassionate refugee policy - and our confidence that we can continue to do both”, he added.
“For some people, embracing refugees is a political issue, for me, as a Christian, speaking up for and caring for refugees is more an act of worship and obedience to a God whose Kingdom is global and whose mercies are new every morning”, author Lynne Hybels pointed out.
While the advertisement is signed by evangelical heavyweights, several evangelical leaders who backed Trump during the campaign are supporting the ban.
They include Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. ; Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; and Southern Baptist Pastor Ronnie Floyd, among others.
According to some polls, most white evangelicals side with Trump. But Wednesday’s list of leaders included some who rarely get involved in political debates.
PUERTO RICO BAPTISTS WITHDRAW SUPPORT FOR FRANKLIN GRAHAM
Meanwhile, Baptists in Puerto Rico have withdrawn support for Franklin Graham’s Feb. 10-12 Festival of Hope evangelistic rally in San Juan, in protest of the evangelist’s endorsement of anti-immigration policies espoused by President Donald Trump.
The executive minister and the president of the Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico issued a statement Feb. 4, saying Graham’s endorsement of Trump’s policies “are for us contrary to the values of the Kingdom.”
The region’s leaders stated that they do not intend to undermine the Festival of Hope, but issued their statement in order “to affirm our testimony in favour of the poor, marginalized and foreigners, among others.”
The Baptist leaders said Trump’s immigration policies “attack the life of our neighbour, and Jesus has always called us to love even enemies and to be our brother’s keeper.”