For more than three decades, Baltimore-based World Relief has resettled tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom fled religious or political persecution in their homelands.
Local churches have played a key role in this ministry. Church volunteers have befriended refugees and other new immigrants, helped them find jobs and homes, and showed them God’s love—no matter what their background.
That’s changing, says Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, as more churches only want to help their fellow believers.
And some especially don’t want to work with Muslims.
“We are getting tons of emails and calls from churches specifically wanting Christian refugees, those persecuted in the Middle East,” says Yang. “There is a lot of fear about resettling Muslim refugees. There is fear about them becoming terrorists or implementing Shari‘ah law.”
According to a 2013 study from Pew Research, America gains about 600,000 new Christians a year through immigration. And about 40 percent of the refugees resettled by World Relief are Christians. But the evangelical nonprofit has also helped resettle Muslims and those of other faiths.
That’s earned them ire of anti-immigrant activists who see Muslim immigrants as a threat.
Recently, some high-profile evangelical leaders have also warned about the threat of Muslim immigrants.
“We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad,” Franklin Graham, head of Samaritans Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrote on his public Facebook page on July 17. “We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the US until this threat with Islam has been settled.” At press time, more than 167,000 people had “liked” the post.
Graham’s comments came one day after 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, born in Kuwait and living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, shot seven people, killing five, outside a military recruiting office. Police killed Abdulazeez in an exchange of gunfire a short time later. All five of those killed were US servicemen.
Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, which advocates for cutbacks on immigration, echoed Graham’s concerns.
“We agree with the common sense biblical wisdom of Franklin Graham,” the group posted on its Facebook page. “After many murder plots by Muslims against Americans, some thwarted and others not, we urge the US to stop Muslim migration until Islamic culture comes peacefully as blessing.”
But Yang says those comments could backfire and lead to policy changes that hurt Christians fleeing persecution.
“My fear is that if we say, ‘Muslim refugees shouldn’t come in,’ then it will probably be harder for Christian refugees to come in,” Yang said. “Our government isn’t going to restrict refugees from Muslim countries, they would restrict the entire resettlement program.”
- The April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed 3 and injured 264.
- The June 2014 killing of two gay men Seattle.
- The September 2014 beheading of a woman in Moore, Oklahoma.
Muslim immigrants have also been targets of violence. Earlier this year, three young students—Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha—were gunned down in their North Carolina apartment.