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‘Do we really trust God enough to love our neighbors?’

Trump’s immigration orders spark passionate responses from Christians.

‘We Welcome Refugees,” declared the sign outside the Northlake Church of Christ in Tucker, Ga., on a recent Sunday.

That message reflected the intense national debate over President Donald Trump’s order to bar — at least temporarily — refugees from seven countries deemed terrorism threats.

Trump’s court-challenged travel ban and his push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border have sparked passionate responses from Christians.

Related: Driven by faith, Texas mom advocates for refugees

Members of Churches of Christ express a desire to show love and compassion to refugees and immigrants.

But many voice concerns, too, for the nation’s security.

“For me, there’s hardly anything more clear in the Bible than welcoming the stranger,” said Jim Neal, a Northlake church elder who serves as director of operations for Friends of Refugees, an Atlanta-area Christian nonprofit. “It reflects so much of the character of what God is trying to do through his people.”

On the other hand, ensuring America’s safety could put Christians in a better position to serve, said James Telgren, a minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark.

“For a nation, a wall is or can be beneficial. When God’s people were their own nation, they used walls to protect cities from invaders. But that didn’t negate God’s command to care for the poor and the foreigner,” said Telgren, whose congregation sets up cots on cold nights when regular homeless shelters fill up.

Keeping America safe

Faith vs. fear.

That’s the battle that some refugee advocates describe Christians as waging.

The proposed border wall, as Wissam Al-Aethawi sees it, is about more than a desire to stem illegal immigration.

The wall relates to “an unfounded fear of foreigners,” said Al-Aethawi, an Iraqi refugee who serves as a Church of Christ missionary in the heavily Arab community of Dearborn, Mich.

Former Muslim Wissam Al-Aethawi shows photos of his baptism in a hotel bathtub in Kurdistan in northern Iraq. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Such measures are “intended to give the false sense of security against everything that is different,” added the former Muslim, who spoke at the recent Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectureship in Henderson, Tenn., on understanding Islam.

The nations covered in Trump’s refugee order — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — are all majority Muslim. The president’s supporters cite a need for better vetting of potential terrorists. Critics accuse Trump of targeting a specific religion.

Al-Aethawi noted that — even though he already had converted to Christ when he came to the U.S. in 2011 — his asylum papers officially listed him as Muslim.

Related: In Canada, refugees find love and hope

“All the Lord’s work through the Arab Christian ministry could not have happened,” he said, “had the U.S. not admitted an Iraqi Muslim asylum seeker.”

Christians can’t just love fellow Americans and people who look and sound like they do, said Cana Moore, a member of the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark.

“As an American, I fear the radical terrorists who hate our nation,” said Moore, who is pursuing a master’s of divinity degree at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. “I want to keep my friends and family safe.

Cana Moore, on a trip to Florence, Italy. (PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK.COM)“However, as a Christian, I believe my calling to be marked by my love for outsiders is more central to the work of the Lord,” she added. “If I serve my Americanness over my Christianity, I am abusing the Gospel.”

But Christian compassion does not require Americans “to be bleating sheep led to the slaughter,” argues Trent Wheeler, who preaches for the Lake Butler Church of Christ in Florida.

“As a Christian, I struggle between compassion, respect for the law and the truly inherent risks that illegal immigration creates,” said Wheeler, who is active in international mission work in places such as Nigeria.

Wheeler proposes a threefold approach: “First, reinforce our borders to slow the flow of illegal immigration. Second, begin an aggressive course of action toward those who pose a real risk, and deport those who are caught committing a crime. Finally, for those willing to demonstrate a desire to be contributing members of our society, work on a path toward citizenship.”

Which citizenship defines us?

In Canada, two Churches of Christ sponsored the resettlement of a Syrian family — a Muslim father, mother and six children — to their community south of Toronto.

Jodi Warren, a member of the Tintern Church of Christ in Ontario, praised the resiliency of the refugee family, who fled a civil war.

“For people who have been through so much, they are not angry, bitter or vindictive but are still loving,” Warren said. “They are not at all what I had anticipated. People do not realize how much they have to offer new immigrants, and we are the ones who have gained so much in the process.”

ILLUSTRATION BY DAN McGREGORTintern minister Noel Walker said: “If Canada had failed to respond to this refugee crisis, (the father and his family) would still be sharing a barn with three other families outside a refugee camp in Beirut with no hope.”

At a federal deportation center west of Chicago, minister Bobby Lawson offers prayers and other support to undocumented immigrants’ families.

Potential benefits to stronger border enforcement include curtailing illegal drugs and sex-trade trafficking, said Lawson, who preaches for the Park Forest Church of Christ in Matteson, Ill.

However, he warns against putting national security interests over concern for hurting and vulnerable souls.

Dan Bouchelle, Phil Jackson, Dino Roussos and Chris Shelby pray in Athens, Greece. (PHOTO BY SAM SHEWMAKER)“It seems to me that disciples of Jesus in America are coming to a crisis of faith,” Lawson said. “Do we really trust God enough to love our neighbors as they need us to? What defines us most: our American citizenship or our citizenship in the kingdom of God?”

Dan Bouchelle, president of the Texas-based Missions Resource Network, said he learned a powerful lesson about refugees last year.

Bouchelle visited Athens, Greece, as part of a seven-country trip, he said, “seeking to discern the best ways to advance God’s mission during this historic opening to Jesus among Muslims around the Mediterranean Rim.

“In Greece, we saw how God is showing up in the stranger and the alien. He is reviving Christian faith in a once-Christian land,” Bouchelle said. “I fear my nation will miss out on this move of God, because we are doing all we can to keep the Jesus who is among the refugees out. I pray it will not be so.”

Expanded story

Read The Christian Chronicle’s expanded version of the above March 2017 print edition story.

Filed under: immigration National President Trump refugees

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