Kay Warren, the co-founder of Saddleback church in California, is taking issue with President Trump's description of gang members in the country illegally. Other high-profile ministry leaders are also protesting.
At a roundtable discussion with California officials on Wednesday, the president said, "We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in. We're stopping a lot of them but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. They're animals and we're taking them out of the country at a rate that's never happened before," he said.
Trump made the comments in response to Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims who said that California's sanctuary city laws are hampering local law officers in their ability to enforce federal immigration laws. She specifically mentioned concern about MS-13 gang members.
It's not the first time the president has used the term "animals." Last year he used it to describe MS-13 gang members while calling for a crackdown on gang violence.
Warren said Wednesday that the president's point of view opposes a Biblical truth. "Calling fellow imago dei (image of God) bearers animals is one tiny step away from believing they should be killed," she said.
Warren explained that in Rwanda, where Saddleback has ministered extensively for years, name-calling preceded the 1994 genocide in which members of the Hutu ethnic majority slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, mainly from the Tutsi ethnic minority.
Warren said, "In Rwanda, Tutsis were called cockroaches. And what do you do to a cockroach? You stomp on it and kill it."
She also pushed back against those on social media who criticized her and defended the president for speaking merely about illegal immigrants who break the law. Warren said, "Even the vilest among us are still made in the image of God and carry the spark of the Divine. When we forget this, we can justify all sorts of evil."
Trillia Newbell, the director of community outreach for the Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also condemned the president's remark, urging Christians to "put politics aside for a moment and think about what the Word says about people."
Crossway publisher and Gospel Coalition blogger Justin Taylor said, "It's wrong to say criminals are animals, not people."
The White House, however, is pushing back on the criticism. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Thursday that those who've criticized the "animals" remark owe the president and people who've lost loved ones to gang violence, an apology.
She accused his attackers of simply trying to score a political victory rather than working to understand the context of his remarks.
Immigrant advocates worry, however, that the president's comment and his regular references to the MS-13 gang contribute to a misperception of the plight of many illegal immigrants.
Southern Baptist pastor Alan Cross said dismissing the "animals" comment as a direct reference to MS-13 misses a larger theme that he says the president often messages: immigrants are a danger.
"Major issue is public isn't paying attention to what Trump is saying regularly about illegal immigrants," he said.
When it comes to Dreamers, young immigrants brought here illegally as children, the president has taken a decidedly softer tone. Last year he talked about the DACA program that gives them temporary legal status and said "we are going to deal with DACA with heart."
Earlier this year, he submitted a plan to Congress that would have given Dreamers a legal path to citizenship. That proposal failed to win enough support however.