President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending the United States refugee program, prompting both praise and concern from American religious leaders.
The order halts all refugees from coming into the United States for 120 days in order to improve vetting procedures of applicants and restores the Bush-era quota of refugees admitted per year to 50,000. (President Barack Obama increased the quota in his second term.) There is also a 90-day travel ban for people entering the United States from seven Middle Eastern countries fraught with sectarian violence and dysfunctional governments: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Additionally, the order places an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.
Trump’s actions sparked expected outrage from Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who shed tears at a Sunday news conference where he vowed to fight the order. But concern came from across the political spectrum and included a wide array of religious leaders who asked Trump to reconsider the new policies.
Leaders from eight different evangelical groups delivered a letter to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence this morning, asking the White House to amend its refugee order.
The letter included endorsements from Accord Network, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Korean Churches for Community Development, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, The Wesleyan Church, World Relief, and World Vision.
“Evangelical churches and ministries have long played a key role in welcoming, resettling, and assisting in the integration of refugees from various parts of the world. As such, we are troubled by the recent executive order temporarily halting refugee resettlement,” the letter said. “Most of the refugees admitted to the U.S. in recent years are family reunification cases, coming to join a relative already in the country. A temporary moratorium will unnecessarily delay families whose cases already have been screened and approved from being reunited.”
As protests of the executive action continue across the country, other religious leaders are chiming in on how Christians should balance national security and compassion.
Princeton University professor Robert George, former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, tweeted Saturday that Trump’s executive order does not make Americans safer.
“The way to fight terrorists is not by closing our doors—or hearts—to their victims,” he said.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote a letter to the president that was published by the Washington.
Moore said it’s a delicate balance between upholding national security and compassion for those seeking to flee violence and persecution. But he fears the consequences of Trump’s order—particularly of what will happen to ministries abroad.
“We are deeply concerned that the order will cause widespread diplomatic fallout with the Muslim world, putting Southern Baptists serving in these countries in grave danger and preventing them from serving refugees and others who are in need of humanitarian assistance and the love of the gospel,” Moore wrote.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who now serves as the Family Research Council’s executive vice president, said that he appreciated Moore’s heart but disagreed.
Boykin said Christians need to help those persecuted abroad, but it’s crucial to defend Americans first: “We are outside Biblical teaching if we fail to protect our own families.”
While campaigning, Trump suggested he might implement a temporary ban on all Muslims resettling in the United States. Trump has since softened his stance and affirmed his actions on Friday were not a Muslim ban.
“The seven countries named in the executive order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump said in a statement today. “This is not about religion—this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, who was an early supporter of Trump, expressed support for the new refugee policy.
In a statement to the Charlotte Observer, Graham said establishing safe zones abroad creates less risk for refugees than bringing them to the United States.
“I believe that all people coming from other countries need to be completely vetted,” he wrote. “We need to be sure their philosophies related to freedom and liberty are in line with ours. Sharia law, for instance, is ultimately incompatible with the Constitution of this nation.”
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, echoed concerns that Islam, the majority religion in all of the countries affected by the travel ban, “requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.” He added, “It’s simply intellectually dishonest to say that it is not a consideration and there are not very legitimate fears when it comes to what it might mean if entire neighborhoods and districts of American cities were to begin to resemble what we see in much of Europe.”
— by Evan Wilt