World Relief Director Responds to Research Saying 2 of 3 White Evangelicals Are Opposed to Helping Refugees

As research shows that white evangelicals are the least likely demographic to believe that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, a leading evangelical humanitarian activist has warned that many evangelicals and Americans may have misguided views about who refugees are as the U.S. turns its back against them.

Matthew Soerens, the director of church mobilization at the evangelical refugee resettlement organization World Relief, told The Christian Post Thursday that there has been a large shift in the past 10 years when it comes to evangelical leaders calling for compassion on immigration issues. However, that doesn’t seem to have impacted the views on refugees of the evangelical rank-and-file.

Pew Research poll released last month shows that more than two out of three white evangelical Protestants (68 percent) believe that the United States is not responsible for accepting refugees.

The polling comes as the Trump administration — backed by overwhelming support from the white evangelical community — has drastically reduced the number of refugees coming into the country per year.

Although evangelicals seem to care deeply about Christian persecution in the Middle East, Soerens said that the Trump administration refugee policies have effectively “turned [the nation’s] back on the persecuted church in the Middle East.”

“[Evangelical] views on refugees are quite negative and that took us by surprise at World Relief because for the longest time in my career, refugees were like the easy part of our work — they have legal status and they all, by definition, have a sympathetic story of fleeing persecution,” Soerens said. “Other immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, that is where it got controversial. Everybody liked refugees, at least that was kind of our operating assumption. Maybe it was that I was wrong.”

Soerens believes the conception of who refugees are has changed in the minds of many Americans to the point that many fear the idea of resettling refugees.

“I think a big part of the shift is that people used to think about refugees and it was the former Soviet Union or it was Rwandan and if you back far enough, Vietnamese,” Soerens said. “Now, people’s image of refugees coming to the U.S. — though it isn’t necessarily accurate — is Syrian. That’s the sort of narrative that is incomplete that has changed people’s views.”

Later this month, Soerens and with his World Relief colleague Jenny Yang will release an updated version of their 2006 book Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.

Part of the reason for the update is to highlight shifts in thinking on immigration that have occured within the evangelical community since they wrote the first book, and to make the case of why immigrants are blessings to the Church.

“I used to think that people knew that refugees had been through this comprehensive screening process [to enter the United States],” Soerens told CP. “It is clear that a lot of Americans didn’t know that and maybe are even confusing these categories and don’t understand that a refugee, by definition, has fled persecution and has gone through a vetting process and that they are less than one percent of the refugees globally that the U.S. has invited into the country.”

While it is hard to point out a reason why many Americans might have misconceptions about refugees fleeing persecution in search of peace and safety, Soerens suggests part of the reason might be the fact that Trump has done his part to contribute to those misconceptions.

“Frankly, when the president says that ‘we have no idea who these people are,’ he is helping to contribute to those misconceptions,” Soerens said. “The Department of Homeland Security knows an awful lot about those people. They have individually vetted each one of them and have worked with the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Defense, with the State Department.”

Soerens said that many people will hear the term “Middle East” in relation to refugees and automatically think “Muslim.” Although the region is predominantly Muslim, only a little more than half of refugees coming to the U.S. from the Middle East are Muslim. Soerens said that over the past decade, one-third of refugees from the Middle East have been Christians fleeing persecution.

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Source: Christian Post