Religious leaders Monday in the Inland Northwest joined state officials criticizing President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily suspending refugee admissions to the United States.
Forty Washington pastors, bishops and other faith leaders have signed onto a letter from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition supporting refugee resettlement in the U.S., including settlement for Muslim refugees.
“If we aspire to be a Christian nation then the Christian response is to welcome refugees. There’s no question about that. This is not the Christian response,” said Rev. Bill Osborne, the rector for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Spokane.
Osborne is among the leaders who have signed the letter. Bishop Jim Waggoner with the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane also signed on to statements opposing the executive order.
Osborne said his family has personally hosted three refugee families who were resettled in Spokane and said the congregation has helped furnish apartments for newly settled families.
But, he said, his congregation is ideologically diverse and contains people who are concerned about security.
“I’m sure there are some who are in favor of this announcement and some who are very very troubled by it,” he said of the executive order.
Bishop Martin Wells of the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod said the Trump administration’s policies expressed “anti-Muslim bigotry” by targeting majority-Muslim countries. The Lutheran Church runs one of the largest refugee resettlement programs in the U.S., Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
“It’s the shot across the bow. It’s wake-up time for everybody that he intends to keep at least some of these commitments that he announced,” Wells said.
Other faith leaders were more restrained in their criticism. Bishop Thomas Daly of the Spokane Catholic Diocese issued a statement in support of resettlement.
“As the violence and chaos continues in countries like Syria and Iraq, innocent citizens are fleeing to the safety of America. I believe that refugees from war can be welcomed to our country without compromising the safety and security of our nation,” Daly wrote. “The Catholic Bishops of the United States will continue to engage government officials in finding a solution to this crisis that is humane and consistent with our values.”
Daly joined Cardinal Blase Cupich, former Bishop of Spokane, who criticized Trump’s order in a statement released over the weekend. Cupich left Spokane when he was selected by Pope Francis to be the archbishop of Chicago.
“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history,” Cupich said in a statement. “Have we not repeated the disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized and excluded?
“We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we have been on the other side of such decisions.”
Those statements were released as about 600 Spokane residents marched in protest of the executive order across downtown Spokane. Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson have also pledged to fight the order.
Some churches opted not to make a formal statement, including the Church of Christ, Scientist.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t considerable prayer going on regarding the issue,” said Bill Scott, a spokesman for the church in Washington. He said members tend to take guidance on topics to pray about from the Christian Science Monitor, which has extensively covered refugees and the executive order.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement expressing “concern for those fleeing violence, war and religious persecution” but did not take a position on the executive order. Shaun Brown, a local spokeswoman for the church, said individual Mormon churches in the region have helped World Relief with refugee resettlement efforts.
At the Spokane Islamic Center, leaders have focused on educating members of the mosque about the impact of the new policy. Mamdouh El-Aarag, a board member, said roughly 20 percent of worshipers at the mosque and about half of Muslims in the area are refugees.
“Not everybody’s clear exactly what this means or what it entails,” he said. The mosque is working on providing an information sheet for its members.