Many Christian Leaders Concerned by Trump’s Order on Refugees

The Jouriyeh family, Syrian refugees who arrived in California in August (Lenny Ignelzi / AP)
The Jouriyeh family, Syrian refugees who arrived in California in August (Lenny Ignelzi / AP)

Many religious groups have urged the president not to give Christians priority in seeking asylum, but some conservative political organizations back his new ban on refugees.

President Trump has signed an executive order that temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program and bars Syrian refugees. It will likely suspend immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries and bars the admission of anyone who engages in “acts of bigotry or hatred,” including “the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own.” It also allows the the secretaries of State and Homeland Security to jointly admit individuals on a case-by-case basis, “including when the person is a religious minority … facing religious persecution.”

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday, Trump clarified what this means: Christians refugees will be given priority status. “They’ve been horribly treated,” the president said. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” People overseas “were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians,” he added, “so we are going to help them.”

The announcement was met with immediate backlash from leaders of nearly every Christian denomination, along with those of other faiths. They argue that Trump’s actions do not reflect the teachings of the Bible, nor the traditions of the United States, and they have urged the president to let them get back to work—many of the country’s most prominent refugee resettlement organizations are faith-based.

If so many prominent Christian leaders reject the notion that their fellow Christians should get preferential treatment, why has this become Trump’s policy? One possible answer is that these leaders don’t necessarily reflect what their flocks believe. Even if they think an open refugee policy is in line with the teachings of Christianity, lay Americans don’t necessarily feel the same way.

From religious leaders’ perspectives, backlash against Trump’s immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now. Hundreds of prominent clergy signed onto a letter condemning the “derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors,” calling on Trump to reinstate the refugee program.

While these efforts included many progressive and mainline denomination leaders, along with an interfaith coalition of other clergy, it’s not just liberals who are pushing back against Trump. A wide range of conservative Christian leaders, along with other relief organizations, have also spoken out against the president’s decision.

“Christ calls us to care for everyone, regardless of who they are and where they come from,” said Jenny Yang, the senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, the arm of the National Association of Evangelicals that provides refugee and immigration resettlement services. “That has to be a core part of our witness—not just caring for our own, but caring for others as well.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the official body of the Church in America, also declared that it “strongly opposes” Trump’s executive orders. “We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, in a statement. “This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims.”

During his homily at a pro-life prayer vigil on Thursday, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said something similar, as I wrote on Friday: “Refugees and immigrants continue to believe that this nation is still a sanctuary, as they arrive with relief and thanksgiving,” he said. “We pray they are never let down!” And on Sunday, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich condemned the executive order directly, calling this weekend a “dark moment in U.S. history” and noting that turning away “refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression, and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.”

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SOURCE: The Atlantic
Emma Green

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