Christian leaders respond to expanded US travel ban

By Margaret Colson
The Alabama Baptist

A recently expanded U.S. travel ban has elicited vocal response from several Christian leaders.

The travel ban, issued Jan. 31 and set to go into effect Feb. 22, will bar permanent immigration from Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan and will stop giving certain visas to citizens from Sudan and Tanzania.

‘Eager to minister’

In addition to these six countries, a January 2017 presidential executive order bars entry of some citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea. Chad was on the original list but has since been removed.

Each of the six additional countries, the White House reported, has deficiencies in sharing terrorist, criminal or identity information with the United States.

Six of the 13 countries now included in the travel bans are on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List Top 10 for religious persecution: Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen and Iran. Nigeria ranks No. 12 on the list.

Several Christian organizations have expressed concern about the travel bans because of the religious persecution experienced by Christians in these countries.

“The churches of our convention are among the most committed people in the country in terms of ministering to those fleeing persecution,” said Travis Wussow, vice president of public policy and general counsel for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. “[Our churches] recognize that all of those escaping tyranny are made in the image of God, and many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s why, from the beginning, the ERLC has asked our government to do everything possible to provide security without turning away from those in danger and need.

“International religious freedom is a priority of this administration, and a policy that closes the door to refugees undercuts that priority. Many of our churches are eager to minister to these men, women and families. There’s a need for security and compassion, but a country as strong as the United States can and ought to balance both,” Wussow said.

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, called the policy “overly broad” and said it “unfairly targets individuals of particular nationalities in Africa and Asia.”

Arbeiter also expressed concern that the expanded travel ban will stymy legal immigration to the U.S. that leads to family reunification.

Responding to criticism that the ban unfairly targets countries with large Muslim populations, David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, said, “There is an important discussion on how to best deal with terrorists who are present dangers to free societies, [but] we must never restrict based on religious identification.”

‘Exemplify freedom’

“It’s up to us to exemplify religious tolerance and freedom on a daily basis,” Curry said. “To the degree we have failed in the past, let’s never fail to fix the wrong and to keep raising the level of freedom.”

While not speaking directly to the recently expanded travel ban, Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response (BGR), urged Christians to pray for Christians in countries where religious persecution is on the rise.

“It is hard to see anybody attacked, driven out or even worse — have their lives taken — because of their faith,” Palmer said. “And we as the body of Christ are commanded to care for the dispossessed and disenfranchised, especially those of the household of faith.

“Please pray for those affected by religious persecution. Pray for their safety and their physical, spiritual and emotional needs to be met. Pray for those who are responding to their needs to have wisdom and knowledge to best help them. Pray also for safe havens and places for them to go to so that they can live their lives in dignity, freedom and to the fullness that God desires for them.”