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Evangelical Leaders Urge Christians to Accept Syrian Refugees

A Syrian refugees cries tears of joy upon arrival on the Greek island of Kos. (Photo: Daniel Etter/Flickr Creative Commons)

A Syrian refugees cries tears of joy upon arrival on the Greek island of Kos. (Photo: Daniel Etter/Flickr Creative Commons)

Amid rising xenophobia, Islamophobia and outright attacks on Muslims in the United States in the wake of recent terror attacks, the leaders of some of the most prominent Evangelical Christian sects in the nation are urging acceptance of Syrian refugees.

The Associated Press reports leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, World Relief and other Christian sects said they would not surrender to fear-mongering against refugees fleeing civil war, genocide and Islamist terror in the Middle East.

More than 100 Evangelical leaders gathered last week at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) at Wheaton College in Illinois to discuss how American Christians can best respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. The Great Commandment + Great Commission (GC2) Summit issued a mission statement, “Christian Declaration on Caring for Refugees: An Evangelical Response,” affirming that “refugees possess the image of God and, as such, are infinitely valuable to God and to us.”

“We are commanded to love our neighbor, and it is our privilege to love refugees,” the statement continued. “As Christians, we must care sacrificially for the refugee, the foreigner, and the stranger. We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees. We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others.”

“Moments like these are when Christians cannot remain silent and still,” the statement added. “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, based on God’s compelling concern for all people in need and especially refugees.”

Last month, the National Association of Evangelicals also declared its support for refugees.

“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS (Islamic State) for the sins of ISIS,” NAE President Leith Anderson wrote after the Islamist terror attacks in Paris but before the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California. “We are horrified and heartbroken by the terrorist atrocities in Paris, but must not forget that there are thousands more victims of these same terrorists who are fleeing Syria with their families and desperately need someplace to go.”

There has been a sharp rise in Islamophobic rhetoric and attacks on Muslims in the United States in the wake of recent Islamist terror attacks. A majority of Americans, as well as more than half of all state governors, oppose welcoming Syrian refugees into the country.

Critics accuse leading conservative figures of fanning the flames of hatred, pointing to statements from leading Republican presidential candidates—Ben Carson recently compared Syrian refugees to dogs and frontrunner Donald Trump has called for a total ban on Muslim immigration and travel to the United States—as inflammatory and even life-threatening.

Other GOP presidential candidates, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, have proposed allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the United States—but only the Christians.

The acceptance shown by Evangelical leaders toward Syrian refugees stands in stark contrast to the stance of the vast majority of American Evangelicals. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in September, white Evangelicals are more opposed to Syrian refugees than any group in America. Nearly two-thirds of them said they did not support admitting more refugees—even before the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino further galvanized anti-refugee sentiment.

Evangelical leaders remain vocal in their support for resettling refugees stateside.

“Jesus himself was a refugee. He fled as a small child to Egypt when there was a tyrannical government threatening his life,” Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for World Relief, told NPR. “So as Christians we don’t really have a choice but to welcome refugees.”

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