Christian leaders from across the ideological spectrum decried President Trump’s move to prioritize Christians seeking asylum, saying it is unfair to give one religious group an advantage over another.
“You have to treat everybody equally,” said Anthony Barsamian, president of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and a member of the Armenian Orthodox Church. “We find it totally unacceptable to single out and create suspect classes.”
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday, Trump said that he intends to give priority to persecuted Christians even as he restricts the flow of refugees. He said Christians had been unfairly denied entry to the United States as refugees.
The Rev. Milad Selim, dean of the St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Worcester, said some in his congregation, which includes many Iraqi- and Syrian-Americans who have not been able to resettle family here, were happy to hear the president expressing concern for persecuted Christians.
Selim said he hopes Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban refugee resettlement offers a chance to make the system work better for people of all faiths.
“Any time you say ‘them’ and not ‘us,’ you are heading in the wrong direction, and that is not who we are as a country,” he said. “But why have the Christians not been approved to come here, what is the reason?”
Some national evangelical leaders have expressed support for Trump’s policy of prioritizing Christian refugees.
But the Greater Boston Refugee Ministry, a group within the evangelical Emmanuel Gospel Center that forms church-based welcoming communities for refugees, objected to “the implication that Christian lives are more deserving of refuge than Muslim lives.”
Torli Krua, codirector of the ministry, said in an interview: “The type of violence we see in a civil war affects everyone, irrespective of their religion or their race or the language they speak.”
Mainline Protestant leaders echoed that sentiment. Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, said the Christian faith teaches that all people are children of God and made in the image of God.
“Refugees are among the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “There should be no prioritizing of one religion over another when it comes to treating people with fairness and dignity. We are all entitled to the protection of our basic human rights.”
The Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, told thousands gathered for a rally in Copley Square Sunday: “There is nothing Christian about denying safe harbor to those fleeing violence.”
The executive order says government officials shall consider case-by-case exceptions to the temporary ban on refugee resettlement and that consideration will be given to religious minorities being persecuted.
It also says that once the refugee program resumes, those fleeing religious persecution should be given priority.
The Christian Post reported in August that the United States had resettled more Christian refugees than people of any other religion in thelast decade, but that only 1 percent of the Syrians resettled here were Christian even though they made up 10 percent of the prewar Syrian population.
In an interview with the Post, Matthew Soerens, the US director of church mobilization for World Relief, an evangelical refugee resettlement organization, said Sunni Muslim Syrians had been in line longer because they were the first victims of the Assad regime. And he told the Post that the United States until recently was not bringing in refugees from Lebanon, where many Syrian Christians fled.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long expressed concern about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
But Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, said in a statement Friday that the Catholic church believes in assisting all who are fleeing persecution regardless of their faith.
“This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities,” he said. “However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity.”
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.