Donald Trump's executive order that bars U.S. entry of all refugees as well as all citizens (with very limited exceptions) of seven Muslim-majority nations is not only a political mistake — it violates essential religious commitments from many of our faith traditions. How we treat “the stranger” or “the other” is central to our faith and, indeed, in our Scriptures is seen as a test of our faith.
For Christians, in the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes clear that how we treat “the stranger” is how we treat him. That’s what the Gospel text says. And the “stranger” means immigrants and refugees — the citizens of other nations living and traveling among us. Therefore, this is a faith issue for us as Christians. Donald Trump’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” is in conflict with our Christian faith, and we will oppose it as a matter of faith.
Congregations around the United States have been taking in refugees for many years, including from Syria and the other six nations singled out. Faith communities have not been taking in and helping refugees from these nations in spite of the presence of conflict and terrorism there; they are taking these fellow human beings in precisely because they are fleeing unstable and unsafe situations. Yet Trump’s executive order — which prevents ALL refugees from being admitted for at least the next 120 days — means that faith communities who are willing and eager to receive refugees will not be able to. Thus, Trump’s refugee ban will result in the direct obstruction of compassionate Christian refugee work in this country at least in the short term — and there is no guarantee that after the 120 days have elapsed, Trump will lift the refugee ban. Many refugee families who have gone through the already rigorous vetting process (which can take up to two years) and were so close to their new home have now had the rug pulled from under them and face a very uncertain future.
Let’s be clear: President Trump’s executive order is not about security; it is about ideology.
All of us want and value security. But these refugees have already been thoroughly vetted. They are mostly women and children who have had to flee situations of violent conflict — for their very lives. They are in danger; they are not a danger. They are refugees fleeing from violence, not the agents of violence toward us. The world’s experts on refugees around the globe clearly contradict what the ideologues of the new White House are saying.
A rigorous analysis of the last 40 years conducted by the libertarian Cato Institute found that the chance of an American being killed by a terrorist who entered the country as a refugee is an astonishingly low one in 3.6 billion. For context, one is many times more likely to be struck by lightning or shot by a toddler. The Trump administration in the text of the executive order used 9/11 as a big part of its justification — but almost all of the hijackers came in on tourist visas and almost all came from Saudi Arabia, which was notably not included in the seven banned countries. In other words, this executive order would not have prevented 9/11, nor would it have prevented any of the recent acts of terrorism (like San Bernardino) that have been cited as justification.
This is a political policy, not a rational one. This is a cruel policy aimed at refugee families in great need and danger; not a protective policy for American families. This is a payback policy aimed at satisfying a political base that has become hostile and hateful to refugees and immigrants. This is a dangerous policy that is already alienating our partners around the world, will be used by our enemies to recruit against us, and will make us less safe.
This is also a policy aimed at a religion: The seven nations cited are Muslim-majority nations. Furthermore, the executive order directs the government to prioritize admittance of refugees (both as possible exceptions to the current ban and to get special treatment when and if the refugee ban is lifted) who suffer “religious persecution” and belong to “minority religions” in their countries. This amounts to showing preferential treatment for Christian refugees over Muslim refugees, which President Trump admitted to a Christian broadcaster. Giving special treatment to Christians fleeing violence over Muslims doing the same is both religiously offensive — to many of us who are Christian — and contrary to America’s best and constitutional values.
This policy is also aimed at race: The Muslims being banned by this order are primarily people of color; and their targeting is directly related to the white nationalist ideology that has now taken up office in the White House, which is a great danger to America’s future. The use of religion and race for political purposes undermines the United States’ fundamental commitment to being a pluralist and democratic society.
Religious leaders who supported Donald Trump must now speak up against anti-religious policies or they will be guilty of religious hypocrisy and tying their religion to the power of the state.
Christian leaders who supported Donald Trump must speak up as Christians against policies that attack “the strangers” for their religion and their race.
Christian leaders who supported Donald Trump should also stand in opposition to Donald Trump’s recent re-embracing of torture — which is contrary to Christian values and principles. Torture is anti-Christian, most Christians believe that, and all of us must now say that again.
The good news is that intense but nonviolent protests at airports and public squares broke out all over the country this past weekend in opposition to the executive order — including tens of thousands of people outside the White House, in Boston, and in New York City’s Battery Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Exercising the right to peacefully assemble will be asked of us many times in the weeks, months, and years ahead, and we must rise to the occasion, remain engaged, and keep witnessing to our faith and values when they are targeted by this government.
Whether it’s the banning of refugees, the targeting of another religion, the subtle or direct appeals to racism, or the endorsement of torture, it is time to speak truth to power. Religious leaders must speak up against these moral choices of our new president. There is more than politics at stake here; at stake is the integrity of our faith and the future of our country.