Evangelicals divided over refugee order

WASHINGTON—Thousands of evangelical leaders are asking President Donald Trump to reconsider his executive order pausing the United States refugee program and barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Christian humanitarian group World Relief published a letter in the Washington Post on Wednesday with signatures from 100 prominent evangelical leaders asking Trump to reassess his decision. Signatories included popular Christian authors Tim Keller, Max Lucado, and Ann Voskamp, as well as church leaders such as Bill Hybels, Eric Costanzo, and Eugene Cho. World Relief opened the letter to other pastors and church staff and this morning delivered it to the White House with more than 3,000 signatures from congregations in all 50 states.

“As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over 2,000 years, to serve the suffering,” the letter states. “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.”

Trump’s order temporarily stopped all refugees from entering the country for 120 days, barred immigration from Syria indefinitely, and blocked all visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for the next three months. Trump has called the order necessary to ensure the safety of Americans.

The order currently is on hold while it awaits legal review at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and most analysts expect the Supreme Court eventually will weigh in.

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter told reporters today those fleeing persecution could lose their lives while they wait for the refugee program to restart, assuming the executive order survives its legal challenge and goes back into effect.

“We are closing our doors during the height of the greatest refugee crisis in recorded history,” Arbeiter said.

Some polls suggest most Americans favor Trump’s immigration order. A recent survey from Morning Consult and Politico showed 55 percent of registered voters agree with Trump’s decision. Most support falls along party lines: About half of independents and 82 percent of Republicans back the order, while 65 percent of Democrats oppose it.

And while some U.S. evangelicals rush to show their discontent with Trump’s decision, many believe it’s a necessary precaution.

Evangelist Franklin Graham, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Southern Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins are just a few of the evangelical leaders defending Trump’s order.

Perkins told Fox Business on Wednesday his understanding of the Bible informs his support for delaying refugees coming into the United States.

“The Bible, as it gives instruction on taking care of the stranger, never, never suggests that you are to indiscriminately let people into your country that want to do you harm,” Perkins said. “This is about those countries who have been producing people who want to undermine America, attack America, and we’re simply saying ‘pause this.’”

Graham told the Huffington Post he supports the order for similar reasons.

“We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order,” he said. “Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

But Catanzaro, pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., suggested a less noble underpinning for Trump’s executive order support: Many hesitate to stand up for refugees because the majority of the oppressed are Muslim.

“We may not say it out loud, but I think many conservative Christians almost believe Muslims deserve their suffering,” Catanzaro said Thursday. “If our security is a priority and they happen to suffer as a result, that’s just collateral damage we can’t avoid.”

World Relief plans to deliver copies of the letter to members of Congress in the coming days.

— by Evan Wilt | WNS

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