Separating Fact from Fear in the Refugee Ban

[The following post was written by Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief.]

In today’s connected world, the rapid dispersion of half-truths—and even blatant lies—is disturbing. This is especially true as it relates to the discussion around the ban of refugees to the United States.

As Christians, we should care about this. If truth is malleable, the very foundation of our faith is undermined. The words of Saint Augustine, “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master,” are often paraphrased to say “All truth is God’s truth.” Careless disregard for the truth should be unacceptable to us.

For some people, the refugee ban seems an assault on Christian and American values. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it so succinctly, “There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty.” At the same time, others see the ban as eminently sensible and a necessary step to protect us from terrorists.

I don’t aim to impugn motives to one group or the other. People hold different views, and the right to those differences and the freedom to express them is not only part of our American tradition, but the very essence of what makes us unique as a nation.

However, what is important is that the opinions that shape government policy are based in truth.

When this administration says we don’t know who refugees are, is this true? When it focuses on the threat of terrorism, is it exaggerating risk and distorting our individual and collective judgment so that we deny those who deserve our compassion?

Experts can debate and disagree as to whether the ban will keep us safe or actually lead to further radicalization and increased risk. However, these are the indisputable facts about refugee admissions, and experts’ judgments need to be informed by them:

  1. The refugee admission process is the most thorough of all entry processes into the U.S.
  2. We do know who these refugees are. They go through a multi-step process that generally lasts anywhere between 18 months to 3 years, and includes fingerprinting, biometrics, retina scans, and multiple interviews by different agencies, including the United Nations, State Department contractors, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. World Relief—the organization I lead that resettles refugees—receives a thorough biographic report compiled by the U.S. State Department on each refugee we receive before they enter the country.
  3. The effectiveness of the process is demonstrated by the fact that, of the roughly three million refugees admitted since 1980, none has ever killed a single American in a terrorist attack.
  4. The Cato Institute’s research puts the annual risk of a refugee-committed terrorist killing on U.S. soil at 1 in 3.6 billion.
  5. Nothing within this executive order would have prevented 9/11, nor the more recent attacks in San Bernardino or Orlando.
  6. At least 5,700 fewer persecuted Christians will be allowed to come to the U.S. as refugees in Fiscal Year 2017 than in Fiscal Year 2016 as a result of the order’s dramatic cut to the overall number of refugees allowed, despite the president’s stated concern for persecuted Christians.
  7. In the past decade, the U.S. has never received more than a fraction of one percent of the world’s refugees annually, and it has received more Christian refugees than those of any other faith background.
  8. Of the 19,324 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. since 2012, 47% have been children thirteen years of age or under, while just 13% have been men aged 21 through 40.

There are lots of opinions around these issues, but those are the hard facts. So, let me ask you, how afraid do you think we should be of this program? We cannot let fear overpower truth.

As a Christian, I do not believe Jesus died for us so that we could live comfortable lives behind walls, indifferent to the suffering of others. In fact, he explicitly modeled through his life radical compassion for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger, and even for his enemies.

Today let us choose to do as he did—especially for those in desperate need. Let compassion and truth be our guide. Let us not succumb to fear any longer.

Tim Breene is the CEO of World Relief, a global humanitarian relief and development organization that stands with the vulnerable and partners with local churches to end the cycle of suffering, transform lives and build sustainable communities. With over 70 years of experience, World Relief has offices in the United States that specialize in refugee and immigration services, and works in 20 countries worldwide through disaster response, health and child development, economic development and peacebuilding.



UPDATED: 3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Show Support for Refugees

Over the past few days, we’ve seen an outpouring of responses to the resources we have provided on how to stand in solidarity with refugees. During this critical time, your efforts mean the world. Here’s an updated list of ways you can show support for refugees right now:

1. Advocate
Sign this petition expressing your support for refugees. Or call your elected officials on behalf of refugees at 1.866.940.2439.

2. Donate
Make a one-time donation or commit to $15/month to Unlock Hope.

3. Engage
Follow us on Instagram and Twitter and join the conversation.

How to Advocate on Behalf of Refugees

Your voice is needed now more than ever.

On Friday, January 27, the new presidential administration issued an executive order that suspends the Refugee Resettlement Program for 120 days, cuts the United States' current commitment to refugee arrivals by over half, and bans Syrian refugee arrivals for an indefinite period of time (with other nationalities potentially on the line).

We need an outpouring of signatures, calls, and emails to your elected officials to say that this is not OK.

Would you do the following 3 things?

1. Sign a petition.
Sign and share this petition expressing solidarity with refugees.

2. Contact elected officials.
Email your elected officials here and call your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives by dialing 1-866-940-2439. Once connected, you can share:

  • Your name, city, and state
  • Your support for the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program
  • One or two reasons why you personally believe in welcoming refugees

Another great way to make your voice heard is by commenting on White House Facebook posts or submitting a message at

3. Use social media
Use the links below to tweet the following message to President Trump, The White House, and your senators and representatives.

My community stands with ALL refugees! The U.S. should continue to resettle #refugees! #wewelcomerefugees

Tweet @realDonaldTrump
Tweet @WhiteHouse
Tweet your senators
Tweet your representatives

Below, please watch a short video of Jenny Yang, World Relief VP of Advocacy and Policy, recorded shortly before last week's executive order.

Thank you for taking a stand at this critical time. Your voice is going to make a difference!

A Letter to President Trump on Executive Order on Refugees

Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence,

As evangelical Christians, we are guided by the Bible to be particularly concerned for the plight of refugees, individuals who have been forced to flee their countries because of the threat of persecution. Evangelical churches and ministries have long played a key role in welcoming, resettling, and assisting in the integration of refugees from various parts of the world. As such, we are troubled by the recent executive order temporarily halting refugee resettlement and dramatically reducing the number of refugees who could be considered for resettlement to the U.S.

The Bible teaches us that each person — including each refugee, regardless of their country of origin, religious background, or any other qualifier — is made in the Image of God, with inherent dignity and potential. Their lives matter to God, and they matter to us. While the U.S. has in recent years received only a fraction of 1 percent of the world’s refugees annually, we believe the refugee resettlement program provides a lifeline to these uniquely vulnerable individuals and a vital opportunity for our churches to live out the biblical commands to love our neighbors, to make disciples of all nations, and to practice hospitality.

Our faith also compels us to be concerned with the well-being of families. Most of the refugees admitted to the U.S. in recent years are family reunification cases, coming to join a relative already in the country. A temporary moratorium will unnecessarily delay families whose cases already have been screened and approved from being reunited.

We fully affirm the important role of the U.S. government in vetting and screening those considered for resettlement to our country; indeed, it is a God-ordained responsibility of government. However, the U.S. refugee resettlement program’s screening process is already extremely thorough — more intensive, in fact, than the vetting that is required of any other category of visitor or immigrant to our nation — and it has a remarkably strong record. While we are always open to improvements to our government’s screening process, we believe that our nation can continue to be both compassionate and secure.

We would ask that you reconsider these decisions, allowing for resettlement of refugees to resume immediately so that our churches and ministries can continue to live out our faith in this way.

We are praying for you and for all of those in positions of civil authority, that God would continue to grant you wisdom and guidance.


Chad Hayward
Accord Network

Shirley V. Hoogstra
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

Hyepin Im
President & CEO
Korean Churches for Community Development

Leith Anderson
National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
The Wesleyan Church

Tim Breene
World Relief

Richard Stearns
World Vision U.S.

Download PDF of this letter. 

Join us in urging Congress and local officials to end the moratorium and resume the resettlement of refugees as soon as possible. Sign the refugee petition now.



CHURCH LEADERS: A Call to Prayer for Refugees and Immigrants

For the better part of my life in ministry, churches, including that ones I have served in, have taken the very reasonable view that they should not dive into politics. Politics are divisive. Political rhetoric eschews with “alternative facts,” and our role as church leaders is to extend welcome to anyone seeking the grace of Christ—we do not want to alienate based on party. Pragmatically, this makes sense.

But what is the role of the Church when politics and clear Biblical teaching collide? How do we respond when the explicit commands of Scripture—to respect the sanctity of life, to welcome the stranger, and refugee, and care for the poor, but up against discourse in the public square? 

For many church leaders, including myself for many years, we choose to direct attention elsewhere, avoiding the thicket of these issues, citing with resolute pragmatism that we do not want to be a stumbling block. This has weakened our voice and done a disservice to our congregations.

When politics and the Bible collide, it is an opportunity for discipleship. 

I do not think that it is the role of the church to endorse politicians or political parties. But the Church must teach the Scriptures and provide practical ways for its community to reach the lost and hurting in the world. In this way, many of us have failed. I have failed.

Take the recent crisis with refugees and immigrants. Right now there are more people forcibly displaced from their homes than at any other time in recorded human history. The Bible speaks clearly to the issues of human suffering, welcoming the stranger, and the role of the Church to provide relief. But a recent survey by Lifeway Research shows that only 21% of American Christians have been challenged by their pastors to explore the Scriptures and to reach out and serve refugees and other immigrants in our midst. 

Let’s take the most uncontroversial thing that a church can ever do—pray. A survey conducted at the end of 2016 by World Vision, found that only 19% of committed Christians prayed for Syrian refugees in the previous 12 months. Only 1 in 5 people from the most well-educated, most well-resourced group of Christians to ever live, took a moment and prayed for the world’s most needy and violent areas last year. 

This is a crisis of discipleship.  

This is thorny, it’s complicated and like almost everything in life, there are many shades of grey. But what is clear, is that the Bible is clear. 

Church leaders—your job is hard and the number of things you have to navigate is astounding. So, we are going to make our call simple.  Will you sign this letter saying that you will commit to praying for refugees and immigrants during your services over the next few weeks? If you want to teach further on this—GREAT—and we have resources below for it. 

We cannot stay silent and abdicate our responsibilities as leaders of the Church to deepen discipleship in our congregations by addressing issues that the Bible clearly and unequivocally addresses—even if those issues have political dynamics.

Sign on now!

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