THROUGH MOST OF my career at World Relief, welcoming refugees has been a fairly easy “sell” to local churches: Refugees have sympathetic stories of fleeing persecution and legal status. I spent most of my energy persuading Christians that the same scripture passages that compel us to welcome refugees also apply to undocumented immigrants.
In recent years, I have observed a shift. The questions after I speak to church groups increasingly focus on Muslims. Aren’t I concerned that Muslims will “take over” America? What percentage of refugees harbor terrorist sympathies? Was I aware, one man asked, that New York City was already under sharia law? (Fact check: It’s not.)
We may have reached the point where refugees are as controversial as undocumented immigrants. Certainly, many local churches do welcome refugees—and this relational proximity has disabused many Christians of misconceptions that all refugees are Muslim (among those resettled to the U.S., more are Christians) or that Muslims immigrants want to establish sharia as U.S. law. But evangelical churches that actively welcome refugees are in the minority. A Public Religion Research Institute poll finds that 74 percent of white evangelicals believe “the values of Islam are at odds with American values”—essentially, that Muslims cannot possibly become Americans. Six in 10 white mainline Protestants and white Catholics agree.