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Christian groups express concern over Trump's refugee ban

Groups: Ban could hurt those fleeing persecution

(CNN) - As the Trump administration seeks to move on to new issues, protest against his controversial refugee ban continue -- including from a community that supported him significantly during the election.

White evangelical voters backed President Donald Trump by 80% in the presidential election, according to exit polling, but some members of the community involved in resettling refugees are speaking out against his executive order clamping down on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The order bars entry to the US for all people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia for 90 days and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated "only for nationals of countries for whom" members of Trump's Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.

The countries impacted are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, according to a White House official.

Days of protests included Christians who have worked or volunteered with Christian nonprofits who help acclimate refugees to the US.

America's Christian community has a long history of resettling refugees in the United States. But nearly 7-in-10 (67%) white evangelicals said the US does not have a responsibility to accept Syrian refugees, according to a Pew Research Center poll from October. And in another Pew poll from January, more than 6-in-10 (64%) white evangelicals said the large number of refugees leaving countries like Iraq and Syria pose a "major threat;" 24% said the pose a "minor threat." Those surveyed were not asked their thoughts on the refugee ban.

Members of the community say the ban could hurt men, women and children fleeing religious persecution.

"The President says he's worried about the danger of letting refugees into the country. Fine," Jeremy Courtney, the CEO of Preemptive Love Coalition, a faith-based nonprofit assisting refugees, told CNN. "What about the risk of not letting them in? What about the cost of shutting our doors on one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our lifetime?"

"Tens of thousands will suffer needlessly. That suffering will perpetuate violence and instability in the Middle East, instead of diffusing it." he added.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant denomination, said he understood concerns about the vetting process but alienating refugees does not solve perceived problems.

"It is one thing to debate whether the vetting process is adequate. It is quite another to seek to potentially turn our backs on Syrian refugees permanently," he said Monday.

And Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, a Christian nonprofit that helps resettle refugees, said those fleeing are often the people harmed most by terrorists.

"Christians have been called by Jesus to love our neighbors, to care for the needy and to welcome the stranger," he told CNN Monday. "Some 80% of the refugees fleeing Syria are women, children and the elderly who have lost everything. They are the victims of brutal terror, not the perpetrators and they are worthy of the compassion of our nation."

Leaders at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, argue that a ban isn't necessary in promoting national security.

"The American people are rightly asking for transparency on the measures taken to safeguard our homeland," said Tim Breene, CEO of the group, in a statement. "While it is wise to always work to increase effectiveness, a lengthy and complete ban is not necessary to meet our commitment to security, transparency, and compassion."

And Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, wrote that supporting policies out of "fear" will cause Christians to ignore communities they are called to serve. The center recently hosted a conference on how Christians can respond to the global refugee crisis.

"Fear is a real emotion, and it can cause us to make decisions we wouldn't have otherwise made. Fear leads us to fix our eyes inward instead of on the 'other,'" he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. "But, as I've written before, at the core of who we are as followers of Christ is a commitment to care for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the abused and the wanderer."

But some from the Christian resettlement community are more sympathetic to Trump's desire to keep refugees from coming to the US. Samaritans Purse CEO Franklin Graham supports creating safe spaces for refugees in the countries they desire to flee.

"As it relates to the United States, I believe that all people coming from other countries need to be completely vetted. We need to be sure their philosophies related to freedom and liberty are in line with ours," he told CNN. "I support safe zones in the countries where refugees can flee and find protection. This is much safer than them trying to cross the sea, risking their lives. Let's take the help to them."


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