Donald Trump has spoken of the need to prioritise refugees from persecuted faith groups – especially Christians – at the same time as he has halted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. World Watch Monitor summarises the response of Christian opinion leaders in America and elsewhere.
Christianity Today yesterday (31 Jan) published the views of four prominent American Christians, who were split on the issue.
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said his charity, which supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world, could not support “a process that prioritizes one religion over another” and said it could have “negative effects, not just in America, but around the world” – by causing a “backlash” against Christians in the countries in which they are most vulnerable.
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said Trump’s intention to prioritise the claims of religious minorities was “critically needed” and should be “welcome news” to every champion of human rights and religious freedom.
She said Christians had been at the “back of the line” for too long and that the President’s intention was not to “ban” Muslims but to give priority to persecuted minorities. She added that the seven countries currently excluded entry from the US were chosen not because they are Muslim-majority countries but because they were part of a list drawn up by the Obama administration of “countries of concern for terrorist travel prevention”. However, she added that the “Christian versus Muslim mischaracterization could feed terrorist propaganda”.
Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for World Relief, said he “appreciated” the President’s goal to assist the persecuted but that he was “concerned” that the language of the executive order could “actually be harmful to the persecuted Christians the President is seeking to help”.
He also said that in reducing the total number of refugees admitted, this would necessarily mean that fewer Christian refugees are allowed entry. “Even if every slot left were filled by a Christian – which I believe would be a serious error – at least 5,000 fewer Christian refugees would be allowed this year,” he said.
Finally, Jeremy Courtney, co-founder and executive director of the Preemptive Love Coalition in Iraq, said the “well-being of my Christian neighbors in Iraq and Syria is tied up in the well-being of my Muslim neighbors”. Rather than creating a “safe haven” for Christians in the US, he said it would be better to pursue “the policies and diplomacy that give [Christians] the greatest chance of surviving and flourishing where they are – so that they don’t have to flee their homeland”.
These are just the latest four voices to publish their opinions on the debate. As World Watch Monitor reported yesterday, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako called the fast-tracking of Christian refugees a “trap”, while the Coptic Church’s Bishop Angaelos said it could “risk violating the same rights [America] seek[s] to protect”.
Meanwhile, journalist Jayson Casper in Cairo has spoken to a Syrian Christian told he is “no longer welcome” to apply for a green card.
“It is very humiliating to be put in the category of potential terrorist,” the man, named Hallisso, told Casper, as reported in Christianity Today. “Just because I carry a certain passport.”
World Vision’s director for interfaith relations, Chawkat Moucarry, told Casper: “This executive order has created a new atmosphere very hostile to people in their region”.
But Adeeb Awad, chief editor of the Presbyterian Synod of Syria and Lebanon’s monthly magazine, said he had “read the executive order” and that it was “reasonable” and “did not contain discriminatory religious language”.
“It was the policies before Trump which hurt Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities more than anything else,” he added. “Especially in Iraq and Syria.”
However, Moucarry warned that the policy would “encourage Christians to migrate, which is exactly what Christian leaders in Syria are fighting against”.
“It is important for Christians to live in Muslim countries,” he added. “Because through them, Muslims will learn to accept the other. We must learn this principle in order to have a democratic society.
“Extremists say there is only one way to think or believe. So keeping Christians in the area is an indirect way to counter extremism and learn that diversity is good.”
Meanwhile, the chairmen of three US bishops’ committees have released a joint statement, saying they “stand in solidarity with those affected by this order, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers” and that the order has “generated fear and untold anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others throughout the faith community in the United States”.
“We also express our firm resolution that the order’s stated preference for ‘religious minorities’ should be applied to protect not only Christians where they are a minority, but all religious minorities who suffer persecution, which includes Yezidis, Shia Muslims in majority Sunni areas, and vice versa,” added the statement from Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, as reported by catholicnews.com
“While we also recognize that the United States government has a duty to protect the security of its people, we must nevertheless employ means that respect both religious liberty for all, and the urgency of protecting the lives of those who desperately flee violence and persecution.”