A group of 100 evangelical leaders and pastors published a full-page ad in The Washington Post on Wednesday objecting to President Trump’s executive order on refugees.
The ad featured an open letter to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and criticized the moratorium placed on the national refugee program and reduction in the number of refugees to be allowed into the U.S. this year. Parts of the order, which also temporarily blocks visas from seven Muslim-majority countries, are held up in court, but the yearly cap on refugees is not affected.
World Relief, a national Christian refugee resettlement agency with a large presence in Nashville, coordinated the letter. Signatories included nationally known writers and ministers such as Tim and Kathy Keller, Bill and Lynne Hybels, Ed Stetzer, Ann Voskamp and Max Lucado. Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, also signed the ad. Sauls previously served under Tim Keller at a church in New York City. Christ Presbyterian is affiliated with the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
“As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering,” the letter said. “We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist.”
The letter recognized the plight of persecuted Christians but also called for the U.S. to continue welcoming refugees of other faiths, mentioning specifically “vulnerable Muslims.” The reduction in the number of refugees allowed in this year amounts to “robbing families of hope and a future,” the letter said.
President Trump’s executive order calls for a limit of 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017. That contrasts with the nearly 85,000 allowed in by President Obama during fiscal year 2016. Last year’s total included a record number of Muslims.
Refugee resettlement has become an increasingly contentious issue among evangelical Christians. While their voices may not be as prominent, many Christians are frustrated that more is not being done to help persecuted Christians and draw attention to the cultural upheaval and violence caused by Muslim immigrants and refugees in Europe. There’s also debate about the reliance of church organizations on government funds to help resettle refugees.
Some pastors simply want to be left out of the larger debate.
“It is very divisive,” said Ford Holman, an elder at Woodson Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville near Brentwood.
Holman says members of his congregation are welcome to their views, but that church leaders stay out of political discussions to better focus on the religious principles that bind people together. “We work pretty hard to do everything for the sake of unity,” he said.
Terry Hudgins, a pastor at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, has a similar take. “I’ll let them fight that out,” he said of politicians and others in Washington, D.C.
But the church Hudgins serves on Nolensville Road can’t help but notice the significant changes resulting from Nashville’s openness to immigrants and refugees. The church is in an area where many of them live. Hudgins was brought on board at the church Feb. 1 as the world outreach pastor, a new position.
Tusculum Hills provides space for ethnic minorities to hold Christian worship services in their own languages. Those include Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole and the language spoken by Zomi people from Burma.
“We’re to reach out to the world and the world is at our doorstep,” Hudgins said.