While a few U.S. political leaders have called for banning resettlement of all Muslim refugees, leaders in the evangelical community affirm that refugees should not be rejected based on their religious identity. According to the January Evangelical Leaders Survey, 91 percent of respondents said the United States should not bar entry to all refugees affiliated with certain religions.
Evangelical leaders are not alone. According to a December 2015 CBS News poll, nearly six-in-10 Americans do not believe the United States should temporarily bar Muslims from other countries from entering the United States, and two-thirds said such a ban would go against the founding principles of this country.
“Religion should not be a litmus test for receiving aid,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “Most evangelical leaders believe compassion and security can and should go hand-in-hand.”
Security was a common theme in survey responses among those evangelical leaders who showed support for a religion-based ban (9 percent), as well as those who rejected such a ban. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, said, “Our security is put at more risk when prejudice is our strategy.”
Randall Bach, president of Open Bible Churches, said, “My conviction about upholding freedom from religious tests as a protection for Christians and all other people of faith does not allow me to target a religion for exclusion because some branches of that religion are a threat. To abandon that freedom is worse than a slippery slope, particularly with increasing hostility toward Christian convictions in our nation.”
The United States has a strong track record for screening refugee applicants, having vetted more than 3 million refugees over the past four decades. It is more thorough and careful than the screening for tourist and student visas to the United States.
While noting that there should be appropriate, thorough screening of all people coming into the United States, George Wood, general superintendent of Assemblies of God, also said, “As Christian leaders we also should recognize that it’s far easier to witness to persons of other faiths here in the USA than it is in many instances while they are in their home country. We should take immigration as an opportunity to witness to people. Our first concern is not where they come from, but where they are ultimately going.”
Doug Nuenke, U.S. president of The Navigators, agreed, “It would be an unfortunate move to shut the door on a very special opportunity to bring the gospel of Jesus to new refugees who are far from Christ — some who cannot be reached in their home countries.”
The NAE has been involved with refugee resettlement for over 35 years through its humanitarian arm, World Relief, which has resettled over 265,000 refugees from more than 80 nations. World Relief works in partnership with local churches and volunteers to provide resettlement as well as employment, youth, education and legal services to refugees entering the United States.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.