Hundreds of U.S. churches fund-raising to resettle refugees

Will Donald Trump win the Evangelical vote?
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  • National Refugee Sunday will raise funds to resettle refugees fleeing Syria
  • Some evangelicals continue to advocate for resettling refugees in the U.S.

Washington (CNN)Days after Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslim refugees coming to the U.S., some evangelical organizations are calling on churches to welcome refugees to the U.S.

December 13 is National Refugee Sunday, when evangelical pastors will encourage their congregants to give money to help refugees fleeing Syria.
Evangelicals are choosing to embrace refugees in spite of political calls to block them from coming to the U.S., said Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas, an evangelical organization co-sponsoring the event.
    "This project is a unifying effort where churches are expressing care and support for refugees and not letting politics get in the way," he told CNN. "Churches cannot dictate who is given access to America's borders, but we can be sure to respond to the immediate needs for the millions who will never leave the region."
    The fund-raising for National Refugee Day will focus on resettling Syrian refugees in other Middle Eastern countries.
    But many of the organizations involved with the fundraiser are advocating for refugee resettlement in the U.S. One of the partners, We Welcome Refugees, is encouraging evangelical to pushback on governors supporting Trump's travel ban.
    Not all evangelical leaders are encouraging Christians to open their sanctuaries to those seeking refuge. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization working with refugees, does not support efforts to settle Muslim refugees in the U.S.
    "For some time I have been saying that Muslim immigration into the United States should be stopped until we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over. Donald J. Trump has been criticized by some for saying something similar," he posted on Facebook Wednesday. "Our politicians are not listening to the truth -- my prayer is that God will open their eyes. This affects our security and the future of our nation."

    Concerns about backlash

    Organizers began planning National Refugee Sunday about a month ago as conversations about keeping refugees out of the U.S. heated up on the campaign trail, said Jenny Yang, spokesperson for National Refugee Sunday.
    Activists were concerned that churches would decrease their support for refugee resettlement given their politicians' campaigning, she said.
    "We felt like we need to equip churches and church leaders to talk about what's happening in current events within their church communities," said Yang, who is also the vice president for advocacy at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.
    World Relief, a sponsor of National Refugee Day, works with the U.S. State Department to help resettle refugees and hopes to help settle about 8,500 refugees in the next year, including Muslim refugees from the Middle East.
    While leaders feared that churches following the presidential campaign would become increasingly hostile to welcoming refugees to the U.S., Yang said interest in National Refugee Sunday suggests that the opposite effect has happened.
    "I think many people are offended by what Trump is saying," she said. "Churches are recognizing that the people who are refugees are vulnerable and that they are the ones experiencing terrorism oversees and want to rebuild their lives over here."

    Battling fear with faith

    While no Republican candidates have matched Trump's proposed ban on Muslim refugees, the entire GOP field has expressed concerns about admitting Middle Eastern refugees.
    Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, said those fears aren't unfounded but that evangelicals can't support keeping refugees out of the U.S. based on fear.
    "This does not mean that we're suggesting that the country should not be careful, should not be vigilant," said Cho, whose church will participate in National Refugee Day. "But to suggest that we should close all doors to all Muslims certainly fuels the sense of Islamophobia that's going on right now."
    Ed Stetzer, pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, said pastors must teach their congregations that rejecting Muslim refugees due to concerns about terrorism goes against the fundamentals of Christianity.
    "We as Christians, we're not driven by fear. We're driven by faith. If our narrative is defined by fear and not by faith, it's not a Christian narrative," said Stetzer, who is also a senior fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College.
    Other pastors participating in National Refugee Sunday said they will remind their flocks this Sunday of the biblical lessons of being charitable to those fleeing harmful situations.
    Jordan Rice, pastor of Renaissance Church in Harlem, New York, said it is "preposterous" that any Christian would sympathize with Trump's position.
    "I pastor in New York City, we don't have unanimous support for many things at my church, other than Jesus is awesome and Donald Trump's viewpoints do not represent ours," Rice said.

    Beyond Sunday

    Some of the organizations sponsoring National Refugee Sunday are challenging the churches participating to step up their political engagement in the issue.
    "At a time when the West is reeling in fear and over half of the Unites States governors are saying they will not accept Syrian refugees into their state, we as the church have a responsibility to respond," reads the website of We Welcome Refugees, one of the partner organizations for National Refugee Sunday.
    "We cannot sit blindly by as people die, flee for their lives, search for homes, or live in an existence many of us cannot even comprehend."
    One of the best ways to encourage evangelicals to resist calls to block refugees is equipping them with facts the counter what Trump is saying, said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision USA, a Christian humanitarian agency helping refugees.
    "I think the rhetoric is disappointing because first of all, statistically, the dangers of allowing a reasonable number of refugees to come into the United States are extraordinarily low," he said.
    "The vetting of refugees is quite thorough -- more thorough than almost any other category of people that come into the United States."
    And although Trump and Ted Cruz are at the top of the polls with evangelicals, Cho is not worried that their stance on Muslim refugees will become the dominant one within evangelicalism.
    "I know for myself and many in my congregation what informs our decisions and convictions aren't what politicians say," he said. "We're guided by Scripture and a person named Jesus Christ, who he himself was a refugee long before that term refugee became more popular in our culture."