North America

Evangelicals, Catholics push back on Trump’s immigration policies

Franklin Graham, one of Trump’s few supporters on travel ban

Church leaders claim ban plays into Al Qaeda and ISIS narrative on clash of civilizations

President Donald Trumps’ Executive Order banning immigrants from seven Muslim nations is meeting with push back not only from groups like the ACLU, legal scholars and the media, it is also coming from Evangelicals and Catholics who believe it violates the U.S. Constitution and in fact plays into the clash of civilizations narrative put out by ISIS radicals.

By giving preference to Christians over Muslims, religious leaders have said President Trump’s executive order pits one faith against another.

In recent years U.S. Christians have been alarmed at the persecution of Christians especially in the Middle East with priests, pastors and Christian families being attacked as well as Pakistani and Coptic churches bombed leaving hundreds of Christians dead. The cry for action reached crescendo proportions.

During his campaign for the White House, President Trump played on those concerns and said Christians were being refused entry to the United States, were being beheaded by terrorists of the Islamic State and said in Ohio, “If you’re a Christian, you have no chance.”

Over the last decade, Christians in the United States have grown increasingly alarmed about the persecution of other Christians overseas, especially in the Middle East. With each priest kidnapped in Syria, each Christian family attacked in Iraq or each Coptic church bombed in Egypt, the clamour for action rose.

During the campaign, President Trump picked up on these concerns, speaking frequently of Christians who were refused entry to the United States and beheaded by terrorists of the Islamic State: “If you’re a Christian, you have no chance,” he said in Ohio in November.

The executive order he signed on Friday gives preference to refugees who belong to a religious minority in their country, and have been persecuted for their religion. He told Christian Broadcasting Network that his administration will give priority to Christians because they had suffered “more so” than others, “so we are going to help them.”

However what President Trump had hoped for – that Christian leaders would break out in cheers – has not happened. A wide array of clergy members strongly denounced his orders calling them “discriminatory, misguided and inhumane.” Outrage also came from some evangelical, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders who represent churches active in trying to aid persecuted Christians.

By giving preference to Christians over Muslims, religious leaders say the executive order pits one faith against another. By barring any refugees from entering the United States for nearly four months, it leaves people to suffer longer in camps, and prevents families from reuniting. Also, many religious leaders have said that putting an indefinite freeze on refugees from Syria, and cutting the total number of refugees admitted this year by 60,000, shuts the door to those most in need.

“We believe in assisting all, regardless of their religious beliefs,” said Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, the chairman of the committee on migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Jen Smyers, the director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program of Church World Service, a ministry affiliated with dozens of Christian denominations, called Friday a “shameful day” in America’s history.

“We have no evidence that would support a belief that the Obama administration was discriminating against Christian populations, said the Rev Scott Arbeiter, the president of World Relief, the humanitarian arm of National Association of Evangelicals.

His organization has resettled thousands of Muslim refugees, with the help of a network of 1,200 evangelical churches. Mr Arbeiter said that World Relief is opposed to “any measure that would discriminate against the most vulnerable people in the world based on ethnicity, country of origin, religion, gender or gender identity. Our commitment is to serve vulnerable people without regard to those factors, or any others.”

He said that World Relief had already gathered 12,000 signatures from evangelical Christians for a petition opposing Mr. Trump’s executive order.

“We’re going to call out to our network, the 1,200 churches that are actively involved, he said, “and ask them to use their voices to change the narrative, to challenge the facts that drive the fear so high that people would accept this executive order.”

Only a handful of Christian leaders defended President Trump’s executive order this weekend. One of the few was the Rev Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham and the president of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical aid organization. Mr Graham has long denounced Islam as “evil,” and in July 2015 proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States as a solution to domestic terrorism, months before Mr Trump made his first call for the same.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Graham said of refugees: “We need to be sure their philosophies related to freedom and liberty are in line with ours.” He added that those who follow Sharia law — a set of beliefs at the core of Islam — hold notions “ultimately incompatible with the Constitution of this nation.”

Jim Jacobson, the president of Christian Freedom International, which advocates for persecuted Christians, applauded the executive order and said: “The Trump administration has given hope to persecuted Christians that their cases will finally be considered.”