Evangelical megachurch pastor Jason Webb has spoken out against President Donald Trump's temporary suspension of refugee resettlement and argues that preventing refugees from entering the United States is like closing the door on Jesus.
Webb, who pastors the 6,000-member Elmbrook Church just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a conservative area of the state, was one of the 100 evangelical leaders who signed onto an open letter published as a full-page advertisement in last Wednesday's Washington Post opposing Trump's Jan. 27 executive order.
"When I was asked to sign this letter, there wasn't even really a thought that I wouldn't sign it. I do that for personal reasons as a follower of Jesus," Webb said during a conference call last Thursday. "My role as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor no matter what the issue is to help people see the world not from a political perspective, but first and foremost, as a follower of Jesus."
The letter has now been signed by nearly 6,000 church leaders across the country.
"Right now, people first go to the pages of social media or to their favorite news source. We need to elevate that and say 'No, the role of a Christian is to start where we believe is the source of truth, which is the Bible,'" Webb added. "When you think politically, we have found it leads to an irrational fear of your neighbor. But when you think biblically, it leads to an extravagant love of your neighbor."
The Milwaukee pastor explained that the Bible constantly reminds Christians that they are called to love strangers, foreigners and their neighbors.
"If you just open Scripture, you just begin to see that God's love for them is undeniable. In the Old Testament alone, the term for foreigner residing in the land is mentioned 92 times," he said. "You read in Leviticus 19 that we are to love the foreigner or the refugee as we are to love ourselves."
Jesus, who fled as a baby with Joseph and Mary into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod, was also a refugee, Webb pointed out.
"It is no wonder then in Matthew 25, Jesus said that when we welcome a stranger or when we welcome a refugee, we welcome Him," Webb explained. "As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, the opposite is also true — that when we close the door on a refugee, we close the door on Jesus."
"Far greater than my fear of what people will say of me speaking out on this issue is my fear of Jesus asking me one day, 'Why did you close the door on me?'" Webb detailed. "So we believe that the Church isn't the Church unless we are radically committed to both refugees around the world and those that are here in the United States."
As resettlement agencies like World Relief — the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals and the key organizer of the letter in The Washington Post — rely on churches to help them resettle refugees of all religions in their new communities, Webb explained that Elmbrook Church partners with resettlement organizations to help resettle refugees. In the last year, the church has helped resettle refugees from Iraq, Iran, Burma, Sri Lanka and Somalia.
World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said that about 70 percent of the refugee resettlement cases that the organization deals with are reunification cases where family members are finally united in the United States.
Faith McDonnell, the director of religious liberty programs at the Washington-based think tank Institute on Religion & Democracy and a supporter of Trump's executive order, told The Christian Post that she disagrees with Webb.
"If a refugee, whatever kind of refugee, shows up at your church door, then closing the door on them is like closing the door on Jesus. Talking about a sovereign state that is not part of the Church, God has given the state different instructions than he has the church," McDonnell, a conservative Anglican, explained. "The first instruction is to protect the people in the state — your nation."
McDonnell added that even though the Church should do everything it can to help refugees, the Church "should not be dictating to the state what they are supposed to do when they are trying to keep the nation safe."
"I don't like when people conflate church and state in this matter," she commented. "They sure never want to do it any other time. They want to keep them in separate boxes any other time but when it comes to this, suddenly the state is supposed to be acting like the Church."