For some Americans, domestic and overseas terror attacks, plus a good dose of anti-Syrian political rhetoric, have made refugee resettlement something to be feared.
And a lot of the Americans who hold that view are churchgoers – including a lot of Baptists – LifeWay Research found in a new study.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based organization surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors on their attitudes toward refugees, refugee resettlement and ministry. It also asked where their churches stand on these issues and found that ministers are more open to this ministry than are their congregations.
“Pastors believe Scripture tells Christians to care for refugees and foreigners,” said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay’s executive director. “Yet many admit their church is not involved in such ministry.”
More than half of Baptist pastors surveyed said there is “a sense of fear” in their congregations about refugees resettling in the U.S., LifeWay found.
‘We are overwhelmed’
But the survey doesn’t square with the reality of some directly involved in refugee resettlement.
“My experience is completely the opposite,” said Ali Al Sudani, director of refugee services for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.
Al Sudani and his department are charged with finding homes and jobs for refugees assigned to the Houston area by the U.S. State Department.
The agency depends on donations of clothing, furniture, appliances, money and other items refugees need to begin their lives in the United States.
For that, he said, his agency depends largely on Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in the region. As a whole, Al Sudani said, they come through big — and that includes churches.
“Churches are acting on this problem and involved in this problem because of their faith tradition, which is welcoming the strangers,” he said.
In fact, church support “increased significantly” after the Syrian refugee crisis began last fall and has stayed strong despite growing anti-Syrian rhetoric from American governors, presidential candidates and other politicians, he said.
“We are overwhelmed with the number of churches wanting us to come and give orientations and asking ‘how can we get involved?’” he said.
Al Sudani said he can believe some churches fear refugees because they don’t understand how refugees are screened overseas before arriving in their host countries. It’s also understandable that the current political climate generates fear in some people.
“But as of right now, I have not had any churches who said they are afraid of working with refugees,” he said. “We have many more who have reached out and said they want to do something.”
Many of those congregations, he added, have been directed to him by Butch and Nell Green, Cooperative Baptist field personnel who work with refugees and immigrants in Houston.