Here’s What Happened When a Bible Belt Pastor Opened His Church to Refugees

Pastor David Daniels prays with the congregation at the conclusion of a service at Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Pastor David Daniels prays with the congregation at the conclusion of a service at Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Pastor David Daniels didn’t really have a choice. The refugees were desperate. He could feel that. Their need was great. He could see that. But God was also talking and that, well, he could definitely hear.

So in 2015 he sponsored a Muslim family fleeing Syria and helped them settle in Fort Worth. What’s happened at his church in the years since is a reminder of what decades of studying the Bible has taught Daniels — that God’s will doesn’t always aim toward the easy route. Enter through the narrow gate, the Book of Matthew prescribed.

If God did go for the smooth road, perhaps God wouldn’t have put Daniels in the buckle of the Bible Belt — next to notches of Waffle Houses, Whataburgers and Wal-Marts — and ask him to welcome refugees at a time when the president of the country would rather keep them out.

The national anxiety over immigration and terrorist threats has been felt here in Texas, too, as members of Pantego Bible Church wrestle with their faith, their politics and even the nature of what it means to be a Christian.

The political DNA of his church, by Daniels’ measure, is GOP. With exit polls showing 81% of white evangelical Christians supporting President Trump in November, he figured most at Pantego Bible Church voted for the Republican, too. Still, he challenged his congregation to not follow the president’s path. Since Daniels urged his church to embrace refugees, 300 members have left, some out of displeasure with Daniels’ refugee policy.

“I realize not every church is for every person,” he said. “But there is an internal frustration. I just have to accept that it’s OK for them to move on, and not take it personally.”

But most did not move on — the congregation still numbers 1,300.

Lupe Salazar feels the conflicting emotions of those who disagree with Daniels about refugees but have stayed with their church.

“I wish I had eight hands,” he said, gesturing with his God-given two after a Sunday service. “One the one hand, I agree with the president and extreme vetting, but on the other I know we are Christians and should welcome the stranger. But on the other hand, we need to be secure and safe.”

Salazar heads up security at the church. The first-generation American — and 100% Texan — served in the Marines and proudly recites his family’s journey from Mexico to the Lone Star State. He voted for Trump.

He stayed at Pantego Bible Church because he has roots there and relationships there. His kids grew up there, and his faith has grown there, too. Mostly, he said, he feels that Daniels always listens to his perspective, even if they disagree.

He also respects Daniels’ passion for the issue.

“I agree with his fundamental interpretation of God’s Scripture,” Salazar said. “This isn’t a political issue for David. It’s deeper than that.”

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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times
David Montero

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