If so many prominent Christian leaders reject the notion that their fellow Christians should get preferential treatment, why has this become Trump’s policy? One possible answer is that these leaders don’t necessarily reflect what their flocks believe. Even if they think an open refugee policy is in line with the teachings of Christianity, lay Americans don’t necessarily feel the same way.
From religious leaders’ perspectives, backlash against Trump’s immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now. Hundreds of prominent clergy signed onto a letter condemning the “derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors,” calling on Trump to reinstate the refugee program.
While these efforts included many progressive and mainline denomination leaders, along with an interfaith coalition of other clergy, it’s not just liberals who are pushing back against Trump. A wide range of conservative Christian leaders, along with other relief organizations, have also spoken out against the president’s decision.
“Christ calls us to care for everyone, regardless of who they are and where they come from,” said Jenny Yang, the senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, the arm of the National Association of Evangelicals that provides refugee and immigration resettlement services. “That has to be a core part of our witness—not just caring for our own, but caring for others as well.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the official body of the Church in America, also declared that it “strongly opposes” Trump’s executive orders. “We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, in a statement. “This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims.”
During his homily at a pro-life prayer vigil on Thursday, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said something similar, as I wrote on Friday: “Refugees and immigrants continue to believe that this nation is still a sanctuary, as they arrive with relief and thanksgiving,” he said. “We pray they are never let down!” And on Sunday, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich condemned the executive order directly, calling this weekend a “dark moment in U.S. history” and noting that turning away “refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression, and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.”
During his campaign, Trump won the tentative support of Samuel Rodriguez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who later offered a prayer during Trump’s inauguration. This was an important endorsement—Rodriguez is a vocal advocate for immigrants and their families, many of whom are part of churches represented by his organization. Responding to Trump’s order, Rodriguez told me, “We are a good nation when we are secured. We are a great nation when we are both secured and provide safety for those feeling from the most egregious circumstances.” When asked whether he supports priority status for Christian refugees, he said, “In light of the fact that Christians are now the most persecuted religious group in the world, I would allocate 50 percent for Christians and 50 percent for other groups.” While it is very difficult to know exactly how many Christians face persecution for their faith each year, and how their experiences compare to other groups’, Pew Research Center found that Christians faced harassment in more countries than any other religious group in 2014—a number closely followed by Muslims, the world’s other largest religious group.