After President Donald Trump announced that all refugee admissions would be paused for 120 days, a strange thing happened. A series of religious organizations issued stern denunciations: A Lutheran group headlined its press release indicating that it “denounces” the Trump administration’s actions; a Catholic group expressed “solidarity” with Muslims and “deep concern” over religious freedom for all groups; more than 2,000 religious leaders signed a letter “opposing” the executive order.
These groups and others like them have two things in common: They have explicitly Christian, denominationally tied missions, and they have recognition by the State Department as voluntary organizations that support refugee resettlement. This is not merely a reaction of the Christian left: Groups like the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services have board members from traditionally more liberal denominations, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as well as more conservative ones, like the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is as avowedly pro-life as it is pro-refugee. Refugee resettlement and welcoming has been a core part of organized Christianity’s moral mission for as long as we’ve been receiving refugees.
Throughout the American Christian (and especially conservative) world, the refugee ban has created a unique fissure, apart from other concerns that many individuals have over the visa ban or other components of the now-infamous executive order. I’ve spoken with fellow believers of many denominations in positions high and low and find that even many people who voted for President Trump and who continue to support him find their conscience troubled by this specific question of refugee admission. Coming, as it did, as we wait to see if we will get another pro-life Supreme Court Justice confirmed, the refugee ban leaves many social conservatives in a painful situation: What do we make of this would-be-King Cyrus? What if he delivers us victory for one key moral priority (abortion), while handing us unprecedented defeat on the other (refugees)? What if we escape Babylon, many of us are wondering, only to find ourselves still exiles?