Refugee ban, border wall: Religious leaders respond

Syrian refugee children climb on a fence to watch a football training workshop in a refugee camp to provide Syrian and Jordanian trainers with football training skills, at Azraq refugee camp near Al Azraq city, Jordan, on Nov. 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Muhammad Hamed *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-REFUGEES, originally transmitted on Jan. 25, 2017.

(RNS) Religious organizations, leaders and individuals have been quick to react to President Trump’s expected executive orders on building a wall along the Southern border, on negating sanctuary cities and on banning refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries.

The reaction came mostly from the religious left and was highly critical of the moves.

Here is a selection of their responses:

Diana Butler Bass, theologian and author

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” Lev 19:34

The Rev. William T. BarberRepairers of the Breach

“These acts smell of racism and reek of xenophobia. They are the antithesis of the Bible, which declares, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

National Association of Evangelicals

The National Association of Evangelicals, which praised Trump’s order earlier this week to ban federal funding of organizations that provide abortions outside the United States, called the refugee order “alarming.”

“Christians and churches have been welcoming refugees for 2,000 years, and evangelicals are committed to continue this biblical mission. Thousands of U.S. evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years through World Relief and other federally approved resettlement agencies. We don’t want to stop now,” NAE President Leith Anderson said.

Council on American-Islamic Relations

“Such executive orders and laws will not improve our nation’s safety and security, rather it will reinforce fear, hate, and division within our country. Immigrants and refugees have become legislators, doctors, engineers, and businesspeople who positively contribute to what America is — targeting them is misguided and against our country’s core values.” — CAIR-Minnesota.

 Imam Omar Suleiman, Yaqeen Institute

“(Trump) is trying to overwhelm us and he cannot be allowed to succeed. We cannot be shocked into paralysis. Whatever you can get involved with and push back on, do so. He’s working fast, we need to work furiously. Please keep all of the people and organizations that will be affected in your prayers.”

Muslim Public Affairs Council

“We recommit our pledge to stand up for other communities who are being impacted by the detrimental policies that have been implemented and will be implemented. Now is the time to stand up for each other.”

Secular Coalition for America

“It seems transparently obvious that President Trump’s executive order is an attempt to make good on his discriminatory campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States under the guise of protecting national security. It is imperative that we call this what it is: a thinly veiled attempt at imposing a religious test for anyone seeking entry into the United States. We are committed to fighting for a secular government and will vehemently oppose any policy that prejudicially targets people because of their faith or lack thereof. Now more than ever, Americans of every faith and none must stand together to protect the Constitution and the principles of religious freedom our country was founded on.”  — Larry Decker, executive director

American Humanist Association

“Trump’s plan to issue an executive order placing a temporary ban on refugees is deeply concerning. It runs counter to America’s commitment to welcoming people in need, and the selection of seven countries rumored to be affected by the ban, all of which have Muslim-majority populations, indicates possible discrimination against Muslims. If the ban allows exceptions for those escaping religious persecution, will it be limited to Christians and Jews? Will it be inclusive of nontheists who have been under threat of persecution for blasphemy? We hope that President Trump is inclusive in his approach. ” — Roy Speckhardt, executive director.

The Rev. Franklin Graham

The Rev. Franklin Graham, who heads Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, told the Huffington Post Wednesday he doesn’t believe Trump’s proposed action banning refugees from entering the U.S. needs to be reconciled with biblical commands to welcome, clothe and feed the stranger.

“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, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and 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.”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

“We fear that the policies announced today will make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Everyday my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.” — Bishop Joe Vasquez, Chair of the USCCB Committee of Migration and Bishop of the Diocese of Austin.

Tweet from Joe Tobin, Archbishop of Newark

Paul Raushenbush, Auburn Seminary

“Today will be a day of shame for America. … Revelation time is here. Who are we and to whom do we belong? It is a time for our deepest wisdom to guides us and our brightest love to shine in solidarity. ”

The Rev. James Martin, Society of Jesus, America Magazine

“At the Last Judgment, (Jesus) will say to people, ‘I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.’ And people will say, ‘When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ … It is Christ whom we turn away when we build walls. It is Christ whom we reject when we slash quotas for refugees. It is Christ whom we are killing, by letting them die in poverty and war rather than opening our doors.”

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

“At a time when so many people are fleeing unspeakable violence and persecution to seek refuge in the U.S., today’s decision is a drastic contradiction of what it means to be an American. As the world has its eyes on us, it is imperative that President Trump uphold the values that America has always lived by: compassion, empathy, family, human rights and protection for those seeking a safe haven from danger and persecution.” — Linda Hartke, president and CEO

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez

The Rev. Samuel Rodrugiez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, released a written statement Thursday encouraging the president to work just as passionately to build bridges with the Latino community as he does his border wall and opposing any action that “would forcibly remove the 11 million undocumented people living, working and raising their families in the United States with the exception of criminals, drug dealers and others who bring shame and pain on our community.”

Rodriguez added:

 “I agree with President Trump that securing our borders is critically important to ensuring the safety of all Americans. I also agree with the administration that the American people have a right to determine who comes into our country, and to demand that our laws are respected in the process. However, our goal and our continued focus at the NHCLC will be to ensure these policies are always balanced by a respect for the sanctity of all life and the well-being of the immigrant.”

Unitarian Universalist Association

“We stand in a long tradition of radical hospitality. From the underground railroad to this very day, we have welcomed the stranger, sheltered the refugee, offered safe home, resisted racism, fear and exclusion. We will not be silent if families are torn apart, children terrified, parents detained. We are not accomplices to hate or reactionary fear. Our calling is to love and justice and faithful resistance. We will open our hearts, we will open our doors, to those who face the threat of deportation. All are welcome, period.” – The Rev. Victoria Safford, lead minister, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, Mahtomedi, Minn.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

“Our historical experience as Jews who dwelled as guests in others’ lands sensitizes us to the imperative to ensure a just and compassionate immigration policy. We urge President Trump to endorse the principles of comprehensive immigration reform, including border security, as well as streamlined processing for visas and entry to the United States, a commitment to obey the rule of law, family reunification and a much-needed pathway to citizenship.” — Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director

American Center for Law and Justice

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of this conservative evangelical group, came out in support of the order to restrict the entry of refugees.

Cardinal Blase Cupich

In a mini-tweetstorm Thursday, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich pointed to a previous commentary he had written for the Chicago Tribune in support of immigration and Pope Francis’ speech to Congress, in which the pontiff said, “When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.”

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • I have to question the use of Scripture to claim that somehow, America is commanded by God to take everyone that wants to come here for any reason, or that, as in some of these comments seem to suggest, that the US is the same as the Kingdom of God, and is therefore mandated the same as the Church. Is the US the savior or is Jesus Christ?

  • I love the way “reverend” James Martin uses fear mongering. Jeepers the Creeper will send us all to hell if we don’t take in every muslim, terrorist or criminal adult as refugees. They are here to suck off social services and not much more. “Every things’ free in America.”

  • Leviticus 19:34 (ESV): ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’

    Sojourn: (n) – a temporary stay, (v) – stay somewhere temporarily

    Doesn’t seem to mean ‘move in and stay and take advantage of everything the country has to offer without becoming a citizen’.

  • Banning refugees is a hotbed of controversy and a logistical nightmare, but building the wall will be easy.

    All Trump has to do is get Congress to fund construction and operation of Trump Concrete Corporation in Mexico, authorize H1-B visas to import Trump Wall Construction workers from Mexico, and pay off authorities in Mexico to let the economy in Mexico benefit from Trump Making America Great Again.

  • How predictably political these “religious” leaders are. Preaching the Gospel is much less fun than dabbling in the political topic of the day.

    No one has a RIGHT to come to America. Get over it.

  • Refugee is now one of the most misused and abused term ever. One pictures a grandmother with perhaps a small child trying to escape some country, not fully grown young men in their prime, who may have well be in combat until it became convenient to leave.

  • America is certainly not the Kingdom of God, but followers of God in every land make up that kingdom. We should be a welcoming people and in our communities and nations be a voice for welcoming. Clearly, this was a problem in Israel. If it wasn’t a problem, if Hebrews weren’t turning the sojourners away or abusing those who were among them, there would be no need for the law calling them to be welcoming.

  • It’s so interesting that “theologians” quote the Old Testament that we should protect foreigners equally as citizens of Israel. You should read the Old Testament more carefully because it requires foreigners to abide by the laws of Israel. We treat foreigners the same here if they abide by the laws of immigration. If they don’t they are subject to existing law. Also I find it odd that those who support illegal immigrants by Biblical quotes do not do the same for Israel. It is written in Genesis 12 that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be blessed. It’s time to be consistent theologians! And if you theologians who condemn Israel need some backup to what I am saying, try reading the New Testament scripture in Timothy that says “All scripture is inspired by God…” The only Scripture that existed when this verse was written was the Old Testament. I am both a Rabbi and a lawyer in case you might dismiss what I am saying because somehow I am not credentialed enough or qualified to have an opinion. Shalom.

  • “It is imperative that we call this what it is: a thinly veiled attempt at imposing a religious test for anyone seeking entry into the United States.”

    That’s exactly what it is for the president and immigrantphobes/Islamophobes who are opposed to allowing any people of the Muslim religion to immigrate. Anyone who can pass a thorough vetting as an endangered refugee ought to be admitted. If they can’t be approved they can’t come in. It’s not that complicated and it’s definitely not an All or None situation.

    The plan to build a wall across America’s southern border is not completely without merit, but there are so many things not considered that it’s nowhere near ready to actually begin such an undertaking. Property rights is huge on the list, wild animals whose survival as a species requires freedom of movement, cheap labor for fruit and vegetable farms and meat packing plants and flowers, etc., skyrocketing costs for so many things we get cheap in Mexico, Mexican retaliation via trade and other avenues, growth of the National debt, and on and on and on and on and . . . . . . . .

    It may be that the new administration has plans to mitigate those issues. If so, I’d like to hear them. It’s possible I could be persuaded to feel less negatively about wall. I’m staunchly opposed to “Let’s just build it and see what happens.” That seems to be the president’s plan.

  • God told the Israelites numerous times to be kind to strangers because they had been oppressed as slaves in the land of Egypt. In America today, Christians can be kind to strangers, whether Illegal or not, but that is a far cry from using Scripture to justify open borders or some blanket amnesty for every Immigrant to come here.
    Christians are to obey the laws of our country as in Romans 13: 1-7, unless a law is in opposition to God’s will for the Christian. But, even in ancient Israel, foreigners were to obey the civil laws of the land. There is nothing in Scripture that prohibits a sovereign nation from enacting Immigration laws or restricting Immigration by whatever standards of law that the civil authorities deem reasonable, and should also benefit the citizen of the country. Immigrants who come Illegally may not respect our laws. We have a legal system of Immigration for those who wish to come here.

  • It has been established quite clearly that there are many parts of the border that cannot have a wall, because it would be on private property. There are other areas in which a wall could not feasibly be constructed due to the ruggedness of the terrain.

    Since we have walls and fences on part of the border, we should study the entire zone, and see where a fence would be useful in lessening illegal immigration, and construct only in that sector.

    Building a wall in areas it would not be effective is simply pandering to emotions, the concept of “do something, anything”, even if logic says it would not be effective.

  • I believe, as perhaps you too do, that no nation is nor can be the Kingdom of God. As a follower Jesus, I am instructed to welcome strangers. I have to think that you know the texts as well as I. The problem is not knowing what to do, it is having the guts and the love (both Biblical virtues) to act accordingly. If Pres. Trump choose to act against his claims to be a Christian, I can do little more than to hope for his repentance and meanwhile to act in whatever ways I can to protect people from vicious, ill-based decisions.

  • The Executive Orders signed today are “in opposition to God’s will for the Christian.” As a follower of Jesus and, for quite a different collection of reasons, as an American, I am called to resist Pres. Trump’s orders.

  • Shabbat Shalom . I hope your words to the courts and to congregants are more coherent and thoughtful than this paragraph.

  • news flash– Leviticus wasn’t written in English. the meaning of an English word taken out of context is not necessarily helpful.

  • Would you say that welcoming strangers is the same thing as helping them to come into the country illegally or hiding them from the law?

  • I assume that the Executive Orders that you are referring to are the ones that ban refugees for a few months? If so, how is this opposition to God’s will?

  • The government of Assad supports terrorism. The refugees that are escaping from Assad’s government are not supporting terrorism.

    Of course, we can not take in every person, but the Syrian refugees are a special case. Our government did not do anything to help them and now they have to flee their homes. I’m sure that they would rather stay home. They really didn’t want to leave Syria, but they had to save their lives.

  • Trump does propose a religious test.

    ‘President Donald Trump said in a new interview Friday that persecuted Christians will be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States, saying they have been “horribly treated.”

    ‘Speaking with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said that it had been “impossible, or at least very tough” for Syrian Christians to enter the United States.’

  • Your ignorance and bigotry are…well, all too common today. As is your lack of shame. Pity. I’d ask what’s wrong with you, how and why is your life so empty that you resort to being a hateful keyboard commando–but I’m afraid you’d try to tell me.

  • Dear Mr. Martin
    Please do not twist these verses, He is talking about salvation:
    ‘I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.’ And people will say, ‘When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

  • What you call ignorance and bigotry most Americans call patriotism and common sense. Why do so many of you snowflakes insist on projecting your own states of mind on normal people?

  • When religious leaders speak in favor of what most of the left wants, there is no issue of separation of church and state.

  • What sin do liberals need forgiveness from?
    1. Not sexual sins.
    2. Not lying we know they worship at the alter of rules for radicals where the ends justifies the means especially in using lies.
    They will go to Jesus and say Obama and the progressives just changed the laws so we are not guilty of any sin.
    Humble yourself Repent and accept Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and sin no more.

  • Christ’s kingdom is not of this world nor is it political.
    Satan’s Kingdom is of this World and is political.
    If your a progressive Democrat today you are in Satan’s Kingdom doing Satan’s work.

    John 18:36King
    36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
    Galatians 6:7
    7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.