Watch Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speak out against the refugee ban and the need to help religious minorities.
Thousands of evangelical pastors and leaders have now signed a letter asking President Trump to reconsider his controversial executive order on refugees. On Wednesday, just 500 pastors were backing the letter.
Jenny Yang, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy on Refugee Resettlement for World Relief, told a press conference call on Thursday that the increase in signers "demonstrates how many evangelical churches want to welcome refugees." World Relief works with churches to settle refugees across the country and coordinated the letter.
The executive order bans all persons from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S. for ninety days and suspends all refugee processing for 120 days. It bars refugees from Syria indefinitely.
Multiple pastors on the conference call explained their support for the letter by citing the richness of their individual church's experiences working with refugees over the years.
Jason Webb, senior pastor at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin said that he pastors in a politically conservative area but believes that Christians "need to be radically committed to refugees." Elmbrook has helped refugees settle in Wisconsin for decades.
Eric Costanzo, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist in Tulsa, Oklahoma said that his church has ministered to Muslim refugees and developed such a good reputation that Muslim refugees now ask for Christian help "because they know we're charitable," he said.
Many of the pastors downplayed the safety concerns that prompted the Trump administration to issue the executive order. "We see this not as a conflict between safety and compassion," said Eugene Cho, lead pastor at Quest Church in Seattle "but that we can do both."
Many both inside and out of the government who have worked with refugees say the vetting process already in place is well designed. Natasha Hall, a former immigration officer with the Department of Homeland Security, detailed in The Washington Post the multiple screenings, procedures and questions that lead to a lengthy vetting procedure. The average wait time for refugee resettlement is 18 to 24 months and usually several years for those from Syria and Iraq.
Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Mobilization for World Relief, told CBN News that the best evidence that the current vetting system is working is its track record. "Of the 3 million refugees who have come to the U.S. since the Refugee Act was signed in 1980," said Soerens, "a grand total of 0 has ever taken the life of an American citizen in a terrorist attack." Soerens noted that immigrants who've come to the U.S. post 9/11 and committed terrorist attacks came via other channels such as tourist or student visas.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) also opposes the order. She recently traveled to Syria and met pastors who described intense suffering. "The reality of a genocide against religious minorities is very real," she told CBN News this week. Gabbard calls the president's order "unacceptable" and said the U.S. must help those who are the direct targets of the genocide that ISIS and Al Queda are organizing.
However, Wheaton College professor Ed Stetzer who participated in the World Relief conference call noted that it's "appropriate" to debate about "how many and how often" the U.S. admits refugees.
Costanzo also noted "we're not called to lower our guard and just let our enemies have free reign."
Christian leaders are clearly divided over the president's order. Evangelist Franklin Graham told The Huffington Post that he supports the plan to bar Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. "It's not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that's not a Bible issue," he said.
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, has called the order "sound" and noted that the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for 6 months in 2011 after authorities discovered two al-Qaeda terrorists from Iraq living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Both later admitted in court that they'd attacked U.S. soldiers there.