By David Roach
WASHINGTON (BP) — A full-page ad in the Feb. 8 Washington Post expressing concern over a portion of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration included the signatures of at least seven Southern Baptists among a coalition of some 100 evangelicals.
Two of the signatories – former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin – told Baptist Press their signatures reflect a specific policy disagreement and not a blanket repudiation of the president’s approach to immigration.
Wright stressed that the open letter is not an overall slam of Trump.
The president’s cabinet appointments and his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court are “outstanding,” Wright said. But “on this decision, we just really feel it was a mistake and not well thought through.”
The ad was coordinated by the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief arm and phrased in the form of an open letter to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling Feb. 9 temporarily blocking the travel ban from taking effect. The lower court now will determine whether the ban is legal. The case is expected to rise to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump responded to the ruling by tweeting, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”
Disagreement with the order
Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, said the open letter signed by evangelicals expresses “a disagreement with [Trump’s] decision on” the order. “But still, the headlines like to sensationalize.”
A Washington Post headline stated, “Conservative evangelicals join letter denouncing Trump’s order on refugees.” Pennsylvania’s Pennlive.com news site also used the word “denouncing.” The Huffington Post’s headline was “More than 500 evangelical leaders sign letter decrying Trump’s refugee ban,” a reference to the total number of signatories after the letter opened for others to sign online.
While the signatories stated they are “deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement,” they also “welcome[d] the concern expressed [in the order] for religious minorities, including persecuted Christians.”
Akin said in a statement released to BP, “I respect the president and support his concern for safe and secure borders. I simply believe the policy laid out in his executive order on January 27, as it specifically pertains to our refugee resettlement program, is not the best approach.
“I signed the statement to stand with many of my brothers and sisters in asking this administration to consider the needs of those who are displaced and desperately hurting. I continue to pray for President Trump and Vice President Pence and am thankful to live in a country where we can petition our leaders on these types of matters,” Akin said.
Other Southern Baptists to sign the statement include William Coates, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gainesville; Eric Costanzo, pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK; Matthew Mason, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL; Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL; and Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.
The open letter states, “We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.”
It adds, “Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.”
The signatories stated they are “eager to welcome persecuted Christians … vulnerable Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith at all.”
Trump’s Jan. 27 order placed a 120-day moratorium on America’s refugee admissions program, suspended travel to the U.S. for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries, and banned Syrian immigrants indefinitely.
According to the conservative publication “National Review,” the order’s refugee admissions cap of 50,000 annually following the 120-day halt “stands roughly in between a typical year of refugee admissions in George W. Bush’s two terms and a typical year in Obama’s two terms” prior to an increase of refugee admissions in 2016.
Other evangelicals to sign the open letter included pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area, pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and author Max Lucado.
Wright said signatories with a range of political viewpoints could unite behind the open letter because “the calling to follow Jesus is not a Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative calling.” The sanctity of human life demands support of some causes often regarded as conservative, like protection of the unborn, and some causes often regarded as liberal, like care for refugees, he said.