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What I said to my church today

A pastor speaks to his congregation on the new US refugee and immigration policy.

A woman greets her mother after she arrived from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Sometimes a word must be said. Below is the statement that I made to my church today, where I serve as interim pastor. Our congregation is politically diverse and located in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. Statements by our church’s pastors on highly charged public issues are rare, but not unheard of, and must be very carefully considered. I did not say everything I am thinking about the issues raised by the newly announced refugee and immigration policies, but I did say what I thought most relevant for my congregation at this moment. This is my text:

The church and the state both have responsibilities in relation to human well-being. The church primarily contributes by preaching the Gospel, forming character, and teaching Jesus’ way, as I have sought to do today. The state contributes to human well-being by advancing the common good, keeping order, advancing public justice, and deterring wrongdoers from harming the community.

Baptists believe in a free church and a free state. But part of the church’s freedom is the freedom to speak to the state, in protest, when it believes the state is not properly exercising its God-given mandate. Sharp differences in policy preferences among Christians and across political parties are to be expected, and I do not believe that church leaders should often weigh in, as church leaders, when they simply differ on policy preferences, even when those differences are heartfelt. But occasionally issues arise that go beyond policy preferences to the level of fundamental morality.

Friday’s announced changes in US refugee policy have evoked principled resistance across the Christian theological and ecclesial spectrum already, including among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and evangelicals. The way in which those changes have been implemented in the last 36 hours, including by pulling green-card-holding foreign nationals off airplanes and sending them back to their countries, without any prior notice, strikes many of us as exceptionally bad implementation of bad policy. It is affecting, and will affect, many people, including people in our Decatur community, such as professionals working in higher education. (I am grateful that a federal judge blocked this part of the policy last night.)

It is not my intent to often surface such issues here. However, as a Christian, as an ethicist, as the leader of two academic professional organizations whose membership includes people affected by these policies, and indeed, as a Christian minister, I feel conscientiously obligated to state my protest and to do so publicly. Let us pray for policies and implementation of policies that improve upon what we are currently witnessing and better reflect the proper exercise of state authority.

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