How Should the Church Respond to Trump’s Travel Ban?

Comments (17)

I began wrestling with this question last week Sunday when I read about two Christian families from Syria who, after fourteen years of working to attain permission to come to America, were told upon arriving at the airport that they either needed to leave the country or lose their visas. As CNN reported that morning:

Two brothers, their wives and children left war-torn Syria with 16 suitcases and crossed the border into Lebanon. They were finally on their way to the United States after working for almost 15 years to join their family members stateside.

But after a flight from Beirut to Doha, Qatar, and then to Philadelphia on Saturday, the two families were told to get on a flight back to Doha. It was because President Donald Trump had just signed an executive order denying citizens from seven countries, including Syria, entry into the United States.

One can imagine what these families—their last name is Asali—were going through. Years of painstaking work on applications and all manner of procedural requirements. The emotional stress. The financial cost. The lack of understanding (they spoke limited English and had no access to a lawyer or to their family members in Pennsylvania). The fear of what returning to Syria—where hundreds of thousands have died during the past few years, and where their ethnic group is one of the most persecuted—might mean. They already had a home purchased for them and fully furnished in America.

I wrestled with how the church should respond to Trump’s travel ban that morning. In the services I led I reminded the worshipers of the trauma families like these are experiencing. And I prayed for them. I prayed for all those who were suffering from the president’s sweeping travel ban.

But I didn’t write anything publicly because I wasn’t sure how to approach the issue in a way that wouldn’t seem politicized. Christians are already deeply divided about immigration and about what our government has to do to protect us from terrorism. And it is, in fact, a primary responsibility of government to protect us from terrorism by controlling who is permitted to enter the United States. So we need to be very careful here. No pastor has the right to dictate immigration policy, let alone national security policy, from the pulpit.

That said (and I would not say this in a church service), the sheer arbitrariness and irrationality of President Trump’s travel ban is quite well established. For one thing, even its staunchest defenders do not defend its execution. But we can go beyond that. Not a single properly vetted refugee has carried out a terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. As the Atlantic observes:

Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s…

Here’s another fascinating statistic. As the libertarian Cato Institute points out, “Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.”

The reality is that most of the terrorist attacks America has endured since 2001 have been committed by American citizens or permanent residents. True, some of these were foreign born. But to quote the Atlantic again, “Between 1975 and 2015, the ‘annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist.'”

There is good reason, then, why the courts might not find that President Trump’s travel ban bears rational scrutiny – as it must, in order to be constitutional. We shall see where it all ends up, but I am thankful that, because of what the courts and other government officials have done, the Asalis have returned to the United States to stay.

In the meantime, what should the church do? Let’s be clear. I don’t think we should bring the politics or policy of the travel ban into our services. We need to be very careful here. We need to pay President Trump, his officials, and our courts the respect and deference we owe them, as the New Testament commands.

But that doesn’t mean our churches should stand by silently as human lives are thrown into chaos by the fallout. It doesn’t mean we should cease praying and advocating for the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the refugee. The vast majority of those affected by the ban are peaceful people who want to come to the United States for freedom, security, and prosperity just like our own ancestors did. And a good number of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of them are already part of our churches. We are responsible for them. We need to remember Paul’s admonition that if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Only by bearing one another’s burdens can we fulfill the law of Christ.

When I was a boy growing up in the mountains of northern British Columbia our small Christian Reformed congregation sponsored a refugee family who had been forced to flee the horror of genocide in Cambodia. I remember one young boy, Naroon was his name, who became my friend. We were about five years old. His family attended my church. The body of Christ became a ministry of salvation for them in a way that I will never forget.

At the very least, then, every church must make one thing clear. We stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. We respect our government’s right to determine when and how they come into this country, but we pray and advocate for the acceptance of as many refugees as is safe and feasible. Then, once they are here, we welcome them with open arms. We care for their material and spiritual needs. We help them find jobs, homes, and playmates for their children. We seek reconciliation and unity with them as brothers and sisters with whom we desire to be one body in Christ.

If we are afraid to do these things as churches and as Christians because they offend our political sensibilities then we had better take a deep breath and reconsider our politics. We have to ask ourselves, where does our primary loyalty lie? Jesus, for his part, has told us that he will take our treatment of refugees personally (Mathew 25).

To stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants is not to politicize the church. It is to fulfill the exhortation of Christ in Matthew 25:45, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for me.”

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Greetings:

      Matthew you raise many important points. Here are a few areas in which I can wholeheartedly agree:

1. Governments should be allowed to set policies.

2. Christians should be charitable.

3. Christians should utilise prophetic voices in the face of injustice.

4. When one part of the body suffers, then the rest suffers.

Each of these, categories can be subject to category confusion and manipulation, if not treated with discernment. Let me explain.

1. I lived in North Africa. A new president with a lot of resolve came into power. He worked hard to ensure that the day to day lives of people had a sense of security and stability. This was accomplished in part by jailing people who were implicated in causing insecurity, but not necessarily guilty. From the local people's stance, they saw this as the cost of having a largely stable country. That is to say, there was a certain amount of collateral damage. Sounds cold, but they saw this as part of the cost of being at war against the forces that would cause instabillty. Guess what the reaction of some journalists from the West was? They cried injustice, unfair, heavy-handedness and the like. What they were doing was imposing a certain idealistic view on a situation that was not their lived experience. Thus, it would have been convenient for even churches who expressed a lot of sentimental humanitarianism to join forces with the Western journalists and call for the ousting of the president. It would have made good press, but some of the realities on the ground called for other responses.

2. Christians should be charitable. Absolutely. But that needs to be with eyes wide open. That is to say, we need to understand the motivations and means of any group according to their own statements, their own declared intents and their own actions. If a talking snake says that it has a declared intent to topple all of the values and Judeo-Christian ethic in a hen-house, then one must ask if it is prudent to invite the snake into the henhouse under the guise of charity.henhouse under the guise of charity.

To focus Christian charity on Christian refugees and groups that are systemically targeted i.e. the Yazidis, is, as you mentioned, a necessary duty. Just yesterday, I signed a petition asking the government to help with those Pakistani refugees stuck in Thailand, and between a rock and a hard place. In some way their plight is more pitiful yet than some from the Middle-East. They don't get much press, because the press is highly selective especially with stories that can invoke an emotional reaction, such as drowned children etc. Of course, one can be accused of being hard-hearted here, but we need to avoid both sentimental humanitarianism and indifference to the fate of others--both of which are questionable.

3. Christians should speak prophetically against injustice. Absolutely. I agree with you, that should be even when it is politically incorrect. However, recall liberation theology and its advocacy for the poor. On the surface this was great. What actually happened though, was the inclusion of Marxist-Leninist views into this so-called 'prophetic speaking' and it became a tool for socialist leaning governments to co-opt the church. The same can be said of the temporary ban on visas issue to certain passport holders. The church could get co-opted. Not saying it will, but the tendency is easy, especially when righteous anger with a touch of sanctimony sells sermons and print. Sounds callous, but most of the work of Old Testament prophets came with a lot of weeping in quiet for injustice and wrestling with God. Didn't seem to be the stuff of "look how prophetic I am, and look at what a wonderful advocate against injustice I am.' Should concerned Christians address the authorities? Absolutely. With eyes wide open.

4. When one part of the body suffers the rest suffers. Absolutely. Yet, we need to tease apart a few categories. America is not paradise. All Christians in the world are not called to come to the Americas. Some will remain in countries where their witness is vital. They might be abused, be poor, and even die. I have seen this first hand in another country in Africa where I lived. Guess what? Many would not trade in all of the trinkets from the West for the ability and privilege to suffer. They taught me how to pray. Let's drop the notion that we are the solution.

 Secondly, some suffering is more newsworthy than others. It is more 'sexy' to highlight the suffering of someone in the West Bank--perhaps with a political agenda behind it--than someone from, say NGoroland. That is why it is prudent for the church to do her homework, as to which sufferings are the most un-noticed, and which should and could be alleviated. Anything that causes the church to receive undue good press for its noble efforts, might be looked at carefully. It might also cause us to ask serious questions about our motivations. 

In conclusion:

   A while back, we met with what we called "the most powerful woman in __________" Eyes lit up. You met with the First Lady? Actually not. She was the second wife of her husband, now taking care of her five children while he had his fling with his new wife. She walked to work. Sang all day. Came to work tired sometimes because she had been at an all-night prayer meeting. She knows the Living God. For her. Trump? Who is that? 

 

Blessings in Christ

JS   

Well said, Matthew.  And John Span's response is also a good response.  I think what this proposed ban will do is to illuminate us more about what the real facts are.  Many people have the same idea as Trump, which is why he implimented it.  Searching out the real and relative risks is an important process, as well as becoming more aware of the vetting process that already exists.  I think comparing terrorist damage to typical murders etc often forgets the apparent randomness of the terrorist violence.  Most murders are domestic, or drug related, or crime related, so many people feel quite secure that they will not be victims.  They do not feel secure when it comes to terrorism.... such as a soldier suddenly randomly shooting other soldiers, or a couple in California planning a bombing or shooting scenario.  Nevertheless, the risk must be put into perspective, and into the context of what is already being done to examine potential refugee immigrants.  

Community Builder

Very Good Matthew.  While it may not be appropriate or wise to allow immigration and refugee conversation in the pulpit we need to also affirm that it is not illegal nor should other evangelical Christians have to carry the water while CRC clergy play it cool.  Many evangelical pastors have spoken against the present ban on certain immigrants and refugees.  Imagine how the story of Ruth in the bible would be changed if Israel had a ban on refugees and immigrants especially the Moabites. 

Please see my blog on this subject in the Back to God Ministries' "Think Christian."  Commentary.  I stand with you on this subject, but most of the readers of that blog have responded negatively. 

 

Participant

Kent. I read your Think Christian article and commented (negatively) on it.  I pretty much agreed with most points in this article.  I didn't see the articles as similar.

To address the question in the title, the Christian Reformed Church should not respond at all.

Individual Christians may respond or not as part of their expression of gratitude, but every time one group or another convinces Synod to endorse their point of view on a political or social issue, another schism is created, members leave and communion of the saints is destroyed. There will never be complete consensus on any social or political issue. Failure to see this means we are comfortable ostracizing those whose Christian commitment has lead them to a different conclusion. One has only to look at the divisive public statements of the leadership of our denomination to see that one needs to be a Democrat to enjoy communion of the saints in the CRC. If true, there is no point in local missions efforts until we determine the political leanings of any prospective members. That is wrong.

We do not belong in global warming, open borders, tax reform, health care, advocacy of candidates or any of a hundred other social issues as a denomination. We have a much higher calling around which we can and must unify. And if, as a result of that higher calling, individuals feel the need to advocate on behalf of one issue or another, they should join with others who are like minded outside of the church structure and endorsement. In fact, it is in this environment that they may find a greater opportunity to witness to the joy of our salvation.

Please stop this divisive social advocacy before there is another split and a Republican Christian Reformed Church emerges.

Amen and amen. I have nothing to add except thank you for writing this. 

Participant

Where this article "gets it very right" is when it divides two questions: (1) what should the institutional church proclaim about government policy on immigration?; and (2) what should "we" do when there are people in need that come to our lives?

As to #1, the answer is nothing.

As to #2, the answer is to show them love, regard them as the Good Samaritan regarded the injured man on the road.

These two answers are not contradictory, and perhaps that is where factions in the CRC disagree.

Where I cringed when reading this article was where the author, after expressing appropriate concern about politicizing the institutional church, then purports to be an expert on this administration's immigration policy, citing a source at an embedded links which did not effectively support his claim of expertise in any way.

I'm not claiming that expertise myself.  What I would suggest, though, is that it is extremely difficult (even impossible) even for persons who very seriously track these issues to formulate meaningful opinions about what governmental policy on these issues should or should not be. Why?  For the simple reason that we lack information.  We don't get the briefings from the CIA or the NSA or Homeland Security or the FBI or from closed door sessions of certain House or Senate committees or subcommittees.  And for good reasons.

Which means the best we can usually do is guess about what good government policy should or should not specifically be.  

In contrast, I can analyze the Ninth Circuit's recent ruling denying a stay on the federal District Court Judge's order granting the State of Washington's motion for a TRO as to the President's recently issued Executive Order.  Why?  Because the District Judge's decision and order are public, the Ninth Circuit's decision and opinion are public, the President's EO is public, and I happen to have the occupational training and experience to meaningfully read them and analyze them.  But with all of that, I still have to say "I frankly don't know" in answer to the question, "was the President's EO wise or at least warranty, and good public policy?," again because I don't know that underlying facts, again because I simply cannot (will not be allowed to) know them.

Nor can the author of this article know these necessary facts, which is why I applaud his suggestion to not politicize the institutional church but then cringe when he suggests he has more ability to conclude about the President's wisdom in creating these executive orders than he possibly can. 

Community Builder

What must a minister do when he believes scripture teaches caring for refugees. Period . 

 

Let me suggest three things that we all must do because we believe that scripture teaches caring for refugees.

1 Recognize that ISIS promised to seed the refugees with hardened terrorists.

2 Put a value on the lives of those who will be blown up when these terrorists strike.

3 Give the President the benefit of the doubt when he asks for a 90 day halt to figure out ways to identify and cull these terrorists before reopening the door to refugees.

This seems to be a responsible and biblical way to balance love for our fellow human beings and their safety with our responsibility to care for the refugees.

Confusing caring for people with condoning their illegal activities is a non-starter.  We care for people in prison, but do not suggest that the courts were wrong in putting them in prison.  If a nation decides in its interest to delay approval of refugees, or to deny them entrance, or to screen them and put conditions on entry, can a minister legitimately contravene that policy?  Under what conditions?  Is a right for a minister (or any christian) to protest a war, or to protest taxes, or to protest unpaved streets, or to protest global trade?  Is he doing this as a minister, or as an individual private christian with his own opinions on these matters.  

As a minister, he should focus on the gospel unto salvation.  Not put himself into a box of social activism which may end up biting him in the butt when he gets more information in five years.  

Caring for the poor does not mean putting the responsibility on the government, but picking up the task at home with your own hands. 

 

Guide

Hi John, just to clarify how refugee systems work: it is impossible for individual citizens to sponsor refugees without working with the government. It's not quite as simple as putting the responsibility on individual citizens. As we've seen with the recent mass layoffs at World Relief, government decisions to limit the number of refugees coming into the country directly and immediately affect the ability of churches to welcome refugees. The CRC has a long history of churches welcoming refugees, on both sides of the border, and we can't do that without working with the U.S. and Canadian governments. 

Participant

I don't think you are understanding John's comment correctly, Danielle.  Or maybe I'm not, but here's my take on what John suggests (and Ed for that matter), which would be mine as well.

First, there are two questions here, perhaps three, and if you don't understand the questions to be two (or three), and not one, you won't understand John's comment or what I think.

Question #1 is this: What should government do in terms of setting laws and policies that allow or disallow refugees from entering the country (US or Canada)?

Question #2 is this: What should we, folks in this country (US or Canada) -- whether as individuals or local churches or even denominations -- do when there are refugees that our government's laws and policies will be entering this country?

Here's the possible Question #3:  What should we, folks in this country (US or Canada) -- whether as individuals or local churches or even denomination -- do when there are refugees but in other countries as opposed to ours? 

So the answer to Question #1: As to the institutional church, it should simply allow the government to do its job.  In terms of those of us who hold the "office of voter," we should exercise that office (hopefully with intelligence and discernment) but certainly, it is not the jurisdiction of the pastor of a local church (or its council, or synod, or the executive director of the denomination) to lobby the federal government in behalf of church members in favor or against one possible government policy or another.

My suggested answer to Question #2: As to individuals and the local and denominational institutional church, we should consider what individual ("love mercy") or communal ("deaconal") responsibility we might have to directly act, working with government but not lobbying it, knowing that refugees may be coming to where we live, and then actually act according to that responsibility (e.g., sponsor refugees -- my church did this in the 1970's/1980's, sponsoring Vietnamese and Loation families).

My suggested answer to Question #3: As to individuals and local and denominational institutional church, we should consider what individual ("love mercy") or communal ("deaconal") responsibility we might have to directly act, knowing that refugees that exist in other countries, and then act according to that responsibility, which might take the form of supporting organizations like World Renew, or possibly by (an individual) deciding to physically going to those other countries to help out.

You may be correct in pointing out, Danielle, that if the government isn't letting refugees in, or so many of them, then we (individuals or local churches, etc) can't enfold those refugees.  But there is lots of other work to do it the world.  We could address other issues needing addressing (and we won't run out of issues needing addresses).  And hey, those of us individuals who hold the office of "voter" can get into the politics of it.  But the key point is that it is not the jurisdiction of the institutional church, local or denominational, whether via pastor, council, synod, or ED, to be the political lobbyist for all of us, even if the institutional church, at whatever level, should act in its deaconal role (which does not include being political lobbyist for all member as to government policy).

Hi Larry,

I think in order to answer that question meaningfully, several words need to be parsed.  What exactly is involved in "caring" and which of the "refugees" are we referring to?  Caring can involve anything from prayer, taking of offerings for relief organizations, volunteering in refugee camps overseas, individual sponsorship, offering a job, serving in the armed forces attempting to bring peace and stability to war-torn areas, or if you subscribe to the theory of Cataclysmic Anthropomorphic Climate Change, something as mundane as changing a light bulb, installing weather stripping on windows, or forgoing that spring vacation with your family.  As for refugees, which of the millions of refugees worldwide is this mandate for care referring to?  All of them?  If not all of them, which ones, and how do some get excluded?  If "caring" automatically means advocating for the admittance of a certain number of international refugees, my question is "Why do you hate the rest of the refugees so much?"  Which level of care is mandated in Scripture and how do you arrive at that conclusion?  Do you have the expertise and inside knowledge to dictate a certain level of refugee admittance or a certain protocol for refugee screening to the government? 

Without exploring these types of questions, I don't think we can come to solid conclusions.  Barring that exploration, I would encourage you to individually do what your conscience convicts you to do along that continuum of care of all the people God brings into your life (including refugees).  And likewise, as is preached from many pulpits every Sunday, the rest of God's people should also be exhorted to love their neighbor as themselves.  The particulars of what that love looks like begin in the heart and will look different from person to person and situation to situation.  If we begin to dicatate to one another the only acceptable versions of care and love, I fear we will resemble the Pharisees as they laid heavy burdens on the people with their minute parsings of what it meant to live out a particular command.

 

Just how much should the Church [in this case the CRC] get involved with anything or everything?

     It appears that a number of comments, including an allusion in my previous post, touch on the fact that a church, in this case the CRC, needs to prioritize its engagements. I wonder at times, if this is one of its greatest challenges, especially when it holds to the idea of "every square inch" is Christ's. It appears that idea, is then taken to mean, that the CRC should get involved in "every square inch" of engagement on this planet. 

    A while ago Palmer Robertson penned an article entitled "Toward a Reformational View of Total Christian Involvement" in two parts, and  suggested the following:

 Sadly the church today has assumed that all the labors of the Messianic kingdom must be funneled through its assemblies. Sadly the church has taken upon itself a role too great for its resources. Sadly the assembled form of Christ's people has lost faith in the working of Christ outside its own assembly halls. The result of this tragic assumption by the church of all that which rightly belongs to the Messianic kingdom is two-fold: first, the most essential task of the church, which is to concern itself with that particular revelation embodied in Christ and incorporated in Scripture has been neglected; and, secondly, by wrestling from the kingdom members their initiative in every realm of human existence, the church has robbed kingdom members of their proper and effective role among the world today......

Receiving its impetus and direction from the church, working individually and in groups as servants of the Lord Christ, the kingdom of Christ assaults every structure and seeks to bring every thought of man into sub-mission to Christ. Christian political organizations direct their efforts toward bringing the secular state into conformity with God's intention for the state. Christian social group strain their efforts to seek social justice among men. Christian educational organizations demand that every philosophy be brought into submission to the lordship of Christ......

So long as the church assumes to itself all the prerogatives which belong to these various ways of God's working in the world, its central task and calling, its unique mission to the world shall be dissipated.

....more later...enough said, other than he sketches out three positions in part 2 of his paper, and here he echoes what has been expressed in some of the posts above:

.....the liberal expands the church so that it engulfs the kingdom. As a result, the church is forced into involvements too deep for its competence. The church usurps those areas of concern which belong rightly to Christians in their vocations, and at the same time neglects its distinctive responsibility of expounding Scriptural truth to its people. The result is that kingdom members lack the theological depth necessary for accurate and significant action, while the church issues ineffective decrees on subjects beyond its competence.

Hope that helps.

John

 

 

Community Builder

It sounds to me like Doug, John, and others would approve, like the church in Germany once did when they refused to speak up against Hitler, of such ethical issues as slavery, apartheid, racism, sexism.  I do not buy it. Do you really mean the institutional church has no obligation to officially speak out against such evils?

Your easy distinction between individual Christians and the church as institute is tidy but it denies the church of being salt and light in the real world of evil.  If fellow Christians cannot accept speaking out against such evils I suggest they should take it up with God.

Participant

But Larry, the CRCNA already opposes "slavery, apartheid, racism and sexism."  No one opposes that institutional "speaking out" because such speaking out is ecclesiastical (CO Art. 28), just as is speaking about about homosexuality or the human obligation to be a steward of creation.

But it would seem you want the CRCNA to be a political lobbyist as well, as if there is no distinction between pronouncing, as an ecclesiastical matter, that racism is sinful and lobbying congress to pass certain legislation that, say, deals with nuances of voter registration requirements.  There is a difference and even the IRS knows the difference.

To plumb the specifics of your posture on this, would you also want the CRCNA to train paramilitary forces just in case a Hitler-like despot takes over, so that the CRCNA can not only oppose this "Hitler" in words but also with deed?  If not, why not?  

Or to ask another way, just what are your jurisdictional limits, if any, for the CRCNA?  What should Church Order Article 28 allow the CRC assemblies to take up beyond "ecclesiastical matters" (the present church order imposed jurisdictional boundary)?

 

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