Recently I was asked to sign a Lutheran Ministry’s petition protesting President Trump’s executive order on refugees. Frankly I felt very conflicted, unsure of how to respond.
Rarely has a national conversation about social justice been so loaded with appeals to the Bible and a Christian worldview. And yet rarely have Christian leaders been so divided in their response. Even Christian ministries to refugees and foreigners. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, is defending the order and our need for national security, World Vision and World Relief are protesting it.
So I’ve been digging into the issue, both biblically and with Christian thought leaders, and here are answers I’ve found to my own questions that might be helpful to you:
Q: What exactly is the substance of President Trump’s order?
A: (From National Review)“First, the order temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process, then caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year…[close to the average rate of the 15 years before Obama’s dramatic expansion in 2016 [to 70,000].”
“Second, the order imposes a temporary, 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The secretaries can make exceptions….”
“Third, Trump’s order also puts an indefinite hold on admission of Syrian refugees.”
“Finally, Trump’s order will prioritize ‘refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.’ In other words, once refugee admissions resume, members of minority religions may well go to the front of the line. [For example, since the beginning of 2016, of the 13,210 Syrian refugees admitted to the US, .5% were Christians when Christians are 10% of the Syrian population]. You can find more basic FAQ’s about the substance of the order here:
Q: Does this mean Trump is imposing a new religious test on refugees?
A: (From National Review) “Federal asylum and refugee law already require a religious test…The very definition of refugee means, “(A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to return to . . . that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of . . . religion [among other things] . . . [.]”
Q: How are Christian leaders I really respect and who have studied the issue responding to the order?
A: (From Prof. Robby George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, who has helped Christian legislators draft many laws:
“In my opinion, the [Executive Order] was not necessary and therefore should not have been issued…
“A significant part of the reason is that we already have ‘extreme vetting’ of refugees. In this important respect, we are quite unlike many European nations. Of course, most Americans don’t know this. I myself only learned it as a result of extensive briefing when I was chairing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. There is a lot of stuff in our government that is “broken” but our refugee vetting system is not.
“We needn’t, and therefore shouldn’t, shut out refugees who are fleeing terrorism in places like Syria and Iraq, even temporarily…”
A: (From Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, in the Huffington Post) “It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue. We want to love people…but… there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”
Two years ago he tweeted, “We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now?”
A: (From Russ Douthat, Christian NYT columnist) I oppose the Trump refugee freeze because I think the United States has a particular moral obligation to help people in Iraq and Syria given our own blundering actions in the region. I also don’t see strong evidence the refugee program was creating a major terrorism risk, or threatening to create the kind of unassimilable enclaves that Europe is dealing with today.”
A: (From Russel Moore who leads the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention)
“We understand the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, State Department, Department of Defense, and National Security Council legal counsel were not adequately consulted before the implementation of the order. We join with Southern Baptist Senator James Lankford (ROkla.), who stated, “This executive action has some unintended consequences that were not well thought out.”
“Southern Baptists are among the many Americans living in majority Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors. 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 with humanitarian assistance and the love of the gospel.”
A. (From Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Co-signer, Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, Founder, The Veritas Forum, author, Finding God Beyond Harvard and my co-author on Faith and Culture)
“The Bible’s teaching does not equate “welcoming the stranger” with…anonymous entry through open borders, disregard for laws and customs, blanket amnesty, and cradle-to-grave social services. This is not biblical “justice.” It is unsustainable presumption and theft.
“God loves us all. God teaches us to love the well-intended sojourner who comes lawfully as a blessing (the ‘ger’ in the Old Testament), and so we welcome and protect lawful immigration. (America is likely the most welcoming nation on the planet.) There are three other words in Scripture for foreigners to whom citizenship is not to be extended (watch Todd Wagner’s sermon Declaration, or read scholar James Hoffmeier’s The Immigration Crisis). We are for legal immigration, but not for lawlessness that weakens our culture.
“In Scripture, we see both welcome and walls. We see welcome extended to kindred spirits, such as Ruth and Rahab. And we also see Nehemiah, upon his people’s return from Babylonian exile, organizing the nation of Israel to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem that protected the nation from danger and syncretism. This allowed a repentant Israel to rebuild its faith and culture in the life-giving ways of the Lord.” I encourage you to read the rest of her essay here.
Q. So after my reading and research how do I respond to the need to show compassion for refugees?
First of all, let me say, I agree with Prof. Robby George: A disruption of refugee travel while we put fresh eyes on our vetting process seems unnecessary.
A friend of mine, a former missionary to Iran who moved to Turkey after the fall of the Shah to minister to Iranian refugees, would also agree. Iranian refugees would arrive in Turkey quite anxious and expectant to move on to the US. My friend and her husband would welcome them warmly and then lovingly break the news: That was not going to happen any time soon. They needed to find a place to live and settle down because it was going to take at least 18 months to get a US visa while their cases were carefully vetted. But they would help them with their papers and even take them to the airport.
As a result of our already stringent vetting process we have seen no terrorist activity by refugees. None. Zero. So they don’t seem to pose as much of a threat as other immigrants.
I’ll also say that I have great compassion for the refugees. I’ve welcomed them at church and made it a point to sit and visit with them. I’ve traveled across town to buy their hand-made jewelry. I have organized service days at our church that have included cleaning and making repairs at the Lutheran Ministries welcome house.
On one visit there the folks from our church, many who have done far more for refugees, met an Afghani interpreter who had served our troops. A friend on the team, a former FBI agent, had served with an American security team in Afghanistan. As he talked with the interpreter he discovered that he had been wounded by an IED explosion and was awaiting surgery on his shoulder. The interpreter also showed him that he had been awarded an American medal for his service. My friend was familiar with that medal and what it meant in terms of this man’s sacrifice.
He thanked the interpreter deeply and explained to our group exactly what that medal meant. As our group applauded and thanked the interpreter he began to weep. He said it was the first time he had ever been honored for his service by anyone beyond the soldiers who gave it to him. Back in Afghanistan it had put a target on his back and made his friends suspicious. These are the prices refugees have paid and we need to do all we can to help them find safety here in the States.
I am deeply sympathetic to the plight of refugees and am convinced by the testimonies I’ve read and heard that we already seem to have a good refugee vetting process in place. I don’t see any record of violence by refugees. The need for US hospitality is great.
Q: So would I protest President Trump’s travel ban?
Even though I highly respect Lutheran Ministries and want to support refugees with the love of Christ, I’ve decided no. Here’s why:
First of all we do not see the Bible putting the responsibility for caring for the refugee and the foreigner on the State. That command is given to individuals and the church. The State is given the responsibility to “bear the sword.” Defend and protect us. In order to keep us safe our President has legal authority to decide how many and what refugees may enter our borders. (See below)
I reluctantly voted for Trump, mainly because of his promise to appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court. And I am thrilled with his selection of Neal Gorsuch for that position. He kept his promise.
He is also keeping his promise to review our refugee and immigration process. I might not have pushed the pause button while doing that, but he has; and millions support him in that decision. A Reuters poll found that 49% supported him while 41% were opposed with 10% undecided. A CNN poll shows 47% in favor while 53% oppose.
It’s close. Millions are deeply concerned, even afraid of a potential threat of terrorism from refugees. Many do not share my values or my trust in God to care for us. They will feel safer if the President’s order is followed. Should I expect unbelievers to live like believers? As Grady Jones from William Jessup U asked, “Do we have the moral authority to ask our fellow unbelieving citizens to put themselves and their children at risk in order for us to share the gospel here at home instead of putting our own necks on the line by going to those perilous places in the 10/40 Window?”
What does the law say?
A Washington judge not withstanding, it says:
The president’s authority to declare such suspensions can been found in section 212(f) of the INA:
“(f) Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”
Pres. Carter banned travel from Iran and Pres. Obama banned travel from Iraq for much longer than 120 days.
So, because I am willing for President Trump to keep his campaign promise within the limits of the law and assuage the fears of millions of my countrymen I am willing to support his executive order, as long as he resumes refugee travel asap. I am also suspicious of the political agenda behind some of the protest, organized last November and just waiting for Pres. Trump to pull this trigger. (It was telling that the protests continued this weekend, even after the Washington judge issued a stay on the travel ban. Many became general anti-Trump protests.) Frankly I’m much more concerned that Iran or N. Korea will see these protests as an opportunity to challenge the US than I am that refugee travel is disrupted.
I hope that the vetting of the refugee ban takes much less than 120 days and that the travel ban can be lifted even sooner.
I especially want to see the part of the order that gives preference to persecuted religious minorities re-instated. It seems like this national conversation has been driven by sad stories of refugees with their hopes dashed.
But to me the most grievous stories belong to those persecuted by ISIS for their faith. This from Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda:
“From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria….
“Most Americans have no concept of what it was like to live as a Yazidi or Christian or other minority as ISIS invaded. Our people had the option to flee, to convert, or to be killed, and many were killed in the most brutal ways imaginable. But there were none of these protests then of ISIS’s religious test.
“Our people lost everything because of their faith – they were targeted for their faith, just like the Yazidis and others too. Now these protesters are saying that religion should not matter at all, even though someone was persecuted for their faith, even though persecution based on religion is one of the grounds for refugee status in the UN treaty on refugees.
“From here I have to say, it is really unbelievable….
“For years the American government didn’t care. Now when someone tries to help us, we have protesters telling us that there can be no religious basis for refugee status – even though the UN treaty and American law say that religious persecution is a major reason for granting the status, and even though ISIS targeted people primarily on the basis of religion….
“We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?”
This part of the order does NOT prefer Christians but rather any persecuted religious minority. I pray it will be reinstated as soon as possible.
May God use this national conflict to inspire us to do more to show his love to refugees. And may God have mercy on the refugees, whose travel has been reinstated, but may again be banned on appeal.
Faith and Culture: Live wisely l Love well
So where do you stand? Do you support the travel ban? Please respond in the comment section below…