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Southern Baptist Convention urges churches to welcome refugees

Refugees come ashore near the village of Skala Sikamineas in Lesbos, Greece. (Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
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In the midst of a political season in which political leaders have frequently decried refugees as a security threat to the United States, the nation’s second-largest religious group sent a different message about refugees on Wednesday: Welcome them.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination that represents more Americans than any religion but Catholicism, approved a resolution on refugee resettlement in the United States at its annual meeting, which occurred from Tuesday to Wednesday in St. Louis.

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It was the first time that Southern Baptists, who regularly weigh in on all sorts of political topics in their annual resolutions, approved a resolution about refugees since 1985, according to Matthew Soerens of World Relief, an evangelical organization.

The significance of this statement, in a season in which numerous Republican governors have expressed opposition to Syrian refugees entering their states and presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the country, did not escape Southern Baptists.

“Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner,” the resolution said, citing Bible verses about welcoming strangers. “We encourage Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes.”

The resolution also spoke to fears about whether resettling refugees might be dangerous. “We call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm.”

Soerens expressed confidence in the rigor of the current system for vetting applicants for resettlement. “Most churches want there to be a strong vetting system in place for who is in the United States. The good news is, that system is in place,” he said.

A South Carolina bill would hold churches liable for any crimes committed by refugees they resettle

He said the churches that volunteer to sponsor refugees by helping them support themselves and get situated in a community during their first months in America play a role in preventing refugees from turning against their new country. “A strong integration process in a faith-based or community organization, that’s the best antidote for any sort of radicalization.”

Soerens said he does not believe political speeches of concern about refugees have made churches less likely to support newly arrived people, even if many Southern Baptists’ political sympathies lean Republican. In fact, Soerens says, it seems to have had the opposite effect. The talk puts refugees at the front of people’s minds, and World Relief has seen an uptick in churches asking to sponsor them.

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The other resolutions approved during the two-day annual meeting touched on a wide variety of topics. The attendees voted to condemn the Confederate battle flag, encouraging anyone who still flies the banner to take it down as a step toward racial harmony. They voted to oppose boycotts of Israel, to encourage Southern Baptists to vote in the U.S. election and to oppose women being drafted by the U.S. military.

They also passed a strongly worded resolution on sexuality. The resolution said that the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision, recognizing the nationwide right to gay marriage, “does violence to the Constitution.” It praised the state attorneys general who are fighting the Obama administration’s guideline on school bathroom use.

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