clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why churches are more likely to fear refugees than to help them

Most Protestant pastors in the U.S. say Christians are called to care for refugees, but few say their churches are engaged in such activities, according to a new survey from Lifeway Research, an evangelical research firm.

Forty-four percent of the 1,000 pastors surveyed in January said they believe there is a sense of fear among their congregations about refugees coming to the U.S. Just 19 percent said their church helps refugees overseas, and 8 percent said they help refugees locally, making churches more than twice as likely to fear refugees as to help them, the survey report pointed out.

At the same time, a large majority — 86 percent — of the pastors said Christians have a responsibility to care sacrificially for refugess and foreigners.

“It’s encouraging to see the American church understands God’s call to serve and care for refugees and foreigners, but what’s needed now is action,” Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, a sponsor of the survey, told Lifeway. “This is a test of the relevance of the church in our world.”

The data highlight an ongoing debate in evangelical Christian circles about Syrian refugees in the U.S. An article in Christianity Today in November quoted several prominent evangelicals, including Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, who pointed out that “Jesus was a refugee himself.”

On the other hand, CT also noted that Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, wrote on his Facebook page, "If we continue to allow Muslim immigration, we'll see much more of what happened in Paris — it’s on our doorstep."

Pastor Kevin DeYoung, writing for The Gospel Coalition, said Christians could come to different conclusions as they weigh charity for refugees against love for the safety of their next-door neighbors.

Data from the Pew Research Center point out that fear and ambivalence about refugees is more pronounced among white evangelicals than among other religious groups, including black Protestants. The Lifeway research also noted a racial divide, with white pastors (46 percent) more likely than those of other ethnicities (33 percent) to say there is fear of refugees in their churches.

Refugee resettlement is only one issue on which observers have recently questioned the tension between evangelical religious values and conservative political values. Many are also trying to figure out why evangelical support for presidential candidate Donald Trump is on the rise.

Writing for the Atlantic, Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Insititute suggested that "the conventional mode of thinking about white evangelical voters as 'values voters' is no longer helpful, if it ever was. The Trump revelation is that white evangelicals have become 'nostalgia voters:' a culturally and economically disaffected group that is anxious to hold onto a white, conservative Christian culture that is passing from the scene."

He noted that views on immigration and refugees are part of that nostalgia, and said the fact that white Christians are becoming an increasingly smaller proportion of the population is fueling their anxiety.

In an op-ed for the New York Times titled "What Wouldn't Jesus Do," Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center wrote that many evangelicals' sense of powerlessness is making them vulnerable to Trump's assertiveness, even in light of serious questions about his character.

"For some evangelicals, Christianity is no longer shaping their politics," Wehner wrote. "With Mr. Trump in view, their faith lies subordinate."

Email: apond@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @allisonpond