Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris in mid-November, Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz set off a flurry of controversy when he announced that he believed the federal government should bar Muslim refugees fleeing violence and civil war in Syria from resettling in the United States. He stated on Fox News, “on the other hand, Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.”
After President Obama described these sentiments as “shameful” and “un-American,” Cruz doubled down, arguing that by virtue of their minority status and Christian faith, Syrian Christians face exceptional persecution from ISIS and pose no security threat to the United States. Cruz claimed that Muslims fleeing ISIS violence do not face “genocide” and pose a security risk. Thus, he argued, they should be resettled elsewhere in the Middle East.
This story faded quickly from the news cycle. But Cruz is a leading contender for the Republican nomination, one who holds great appeal for many evangelical voters. Meanwhile, negotiators face great challenges in implementing a truce in Syria and reducing the flow of refugees. So we should continue to reflect on the questions Cruz’s statements raise.
Christians do face particular persecution in Syria, yet so do Yazidis, Shiite Muslims, and other religious minorities. How should religion and religious persecution factor into U.S. foreign relations and refugee policies?
For American evangelicals, concern about the suffering church abroad is nothing new. In the years following World War II, as the ideological rift between the United States and the “godless” Soviet Union hardened into the Cold War, evangelicals testified in Congress and founded advocacy organizations to help combat religious persecution behind the iron curtain. Some Christians who had fled communism and settled in the United States formed activist groups such as Jesus to the Communist World and Religion in Communist-Dominated Areas. These groups released a steady flow of public reports to raise awareness about the abuses Christians faced in China and the Soviet bloc. The religion news media, including Religion News Service, the Christian Century, andChristianity Today, reported on religious persecution regularly.
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