Relief efforts dividing evangelicals

While politicians associated with the religious right have opposed resettlement of refugees from the civil war in Syria, evangelical congregations and relief organizations have increasingly engaged in such efforts. The Atlantic Monthly (September 11) reports that Republican nominee Donald Trump and more than 30 state governors have opposed President Obama’s resettlement program of taking in 10,000 refugees (a goal reached last month) in the fear that terrorists are arriving with such newcomers. During the last year when the governors announced their opposition, conservative churches “have joined their liberal counterparts in working to help the refugees find new homes in the United States.” Under such evangelical organizations as World Relief, congregations “are instrumental in the effort, since they’re tasked with welcoming and resettling a refugee in the community, a process that takes several months,” Priscilla Alvarez writes.

Even in South Carolina, a state officially opposing resettlement, about 50 Syrian refugees are or will be resettled with church assistance. But the contentious nature of the debate, especially during a polarizing election year, has had repercussions at the local level, with some congregations becoming more wary of admitting such refugees, especially after incidents such as the Paris attack. The refugees also fear being targeted, believing they are being identified with their oppressors who have driven them from Syria and Iraq. The Southern Baptist Convention included a resolution welcoming refugees in its gathering last spring—the first time in more than 20 years that the group included a resolution about refugees. But Russell Moore, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wonders what will happen to the Republican religious base as party officials and churches move in different directions on this and other issues.

(RNS1-March24) World Vision's U.S. President Rich Stearns, center, visits with Syrian refugees in Irbid, Jordan. For use with RNS-WORLD-VISION, transmitted on March 24, 2014, Photo by Jon Warren, courtesy of World Vision.