Critics say “fear and Islamophobia” behind 26 governors’ move to refuse resettlement of refugees in their home states.
Evangelical leaders in the United States have called on fellow Christians to welcome refugees from Syria and Iraq despite staunch opposition among many politicians and presidential candidates.
In a joint statement – titled ‘Caring for Refugees: A Declaration of Evangelical Response’ – leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, World Relief, the Wesleyan Church and other Christian groups pleaded for solidarity with refugees.
Referring to the displacement of an estimated 60 million people across the globe, the statement said that “moments like these are when Christians cannot remain silent and still.
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“In light of this crisis, we commit ourselves and our churches to actively care for and minister to global refugees with mercy and compassion, both here and abroad,” the statement read.
Churches and their congregations should “embrace refugees” by “providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English-language classes, and schooling for children”.
The statement also made particular reference to the plight of Syrians, some 4.3 million of whom have become refugees as fighting between the government and armed groups nears its fifth year, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The call comes at a time when opposition to resettling refugees in the US is higher among white evangelicals than any other religious group in the country, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Centre.
Last month, governors of 31 states – only one of whom is not from the Republican party – declared that they intend to stop local state refugee resettlement programmes from accepting Syrian refugees.
Since the deadly attacks in Paris that killed 130 people in November, rights groups cite a growing trend of Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Muslim violence across the US. That attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, more mosque vandalism incidents have taken place in 2015 than any year recorded by rights organisations. In November alone, at least 17 mosques were vandalised, with most of those incidents occurring after the Paris attacks.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country. He also vowed to expel Syrian refugees who are already in the country.
But the joint evangelical statement decried the anti-refugee attitudes gripping much of the US. “We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims,” it said, adding that they “cannot allow voices of fear to dominate”.