The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Beth Moore, Jen Hatmaker and other evangelical leaders are publishing a letter urging Trump, Congress to act on immigration

In this file photo, Ann Voskamp, left, stands outside the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast with a sign saying “We Welcome Refugees.” (Photo courtesy of Sarah Melnyk, Church World Service)

A diverse group of evangelical leaders have put their names on a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Washington Post urging President Trump and Congress to act on immigration and refugee policy, issues that have become especially divisive among conservative evangelicals.

Last year, a similar group took out an ad denouncing Trump’s attempt to ban certain refugees, a controversial executive order that has been caught up in legal battles during the past year. This year’s ad also includes controversial immigration issues that have been tied up in recent congressional battles.

It has some of the same signatures, including popular authors like Max Lucado and Ann Voskamp,  who have long focused on the welcoming part of immigration. However, it also adds some interesting names, including Bible teacher Beth Moore and popular author Jen Hatmaker, two women who have become increasingly vocal in the Trump era. Some of these leaders focus mostly on the Bible and spirituality and don’t typically get too involved in political issues.

Moore, who is one of the most widely recognized Bible teachers in evangelical circles, has become much more outspoken on political issues this year on Twitter, especially on sexual abuse in the wake of the #MeToo movement. She has openly written and spoken about her own history of sexual abuse.

The letter also includes pastors of very large churches who don’t typically sign these kinds of statements, like Texas megachurch pastor Matt Chandler and Nevada megachurch pastor Jud Wilhite. It also includes people of color, including Eugene Cho, a pastor in Seattle, and Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

“We have women, people of color — this is the evangelical community of the future,” said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at the evangelical ministry World Relief, which is behind the ad that lists 100 evangelical leaders. More than 1,000 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders have signed the letter, including a pastor from every state.

Last year’s ad focused on refugees, which was not typically been a divisive issue in evangelical circles until it got caught up in debates over national security. The ad states that the number of arrivals of refugees to the United States dramatically declined from 96,874 in 2016 to just 33,368 in 2017.

“People aren’t aware of how the refugee program has been completely decimated,” Yang said.

Last year, around the time that Trump announced the refugee order, 76 percent of white evangelicals said they approved of the travel ban, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Based on arrivals so far in this fiscal year, the United States is on track to admit the lowest number of refugees since the formalization of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980,” the ad states. “This, at a time when there are more refugees in the world than ever before in recorded history. Our prayer is that the U.S. would continue to be a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution.”

This year’s ad also adds a specific mention of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.

Drawing outrage within some Christian circles, Trump announced the end of DACA in September, forcing Congress to grapple with a permanent solution, so far unsuccessfully. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said Tuesday that Trump is not expected to extend a March 5 deadline when legal protection begins to expire for the immigrants known as “dreamers.”

Many evangelical leaders, including those on the conservative end of the spectrum like Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, have rallied their base around specific immigration issues like DACA, because the immigrants were often brought here without their consent.

The ad also urges political leaders to expedite reunification for millions of immigrant families, which some critics have called “chain migration.” Trump wants to end the program, which he mentioned in his State of the Union address. Yang said “chain migration” is a myth because immigrants already have limits on which relatives they can sponsor.

President Trump on Feb. 6 said he would “love to see a shutdown” if Congress fails to reach a legislative deal that strengthens immigration enforcement. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“What we’re saying is, get DACA fixed, but don’t throw family-based immigration as a trading away pawn in the game,” Yang said. “We don’t think it has to come at the expense of family-based immigration.”

A majority of evangelicals (55 percent) favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants who come to the U.S. when they were children, according to a recent Pew survey. However, they are also the religious group most likely to oppose granting legal status (34 percent). White evangelicals are also the religious group most likely to favor  substantially expanding a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The ad also focuses on Christians facing persecution in countries like Iraq, Iran and Syria. Admission of Christian refugees to the U.S. from these three countries has declined by 60 percent during Trump’s first year in office, according to Yang.

“[Trump’s immigration policy] has disproportionally impacted Christian refugees,” Yang said. “It’s sending contradictory messages that we care about persecuted Christians, but we’re not letting them into our country.”

The letter does not include many from Trump’s evangelical advisory council, except for Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who has been involved in White House meetings on immigration issues. However, Johnnie Moore, who is the unofficial spokesperson for the group, also does public relations for World Relief, the group behind the letter.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found 68 percent of white evangelical Protestants approve of Trump’s job performance, which is nearly double the whole population and higher than any other religious group polled.

In the wake of porn-star allegations, most evangelicals stand by Trump

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that a pastor listed in the ad was an immigrant.