ERLC panel denounces anti-Muslim policies
Refugees | The Southern Baptist event’s participants define a gospel-oriented approach to refugees
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 12/10/15, 11:35 am
WASHINGTON—Christian interactions with Muslims dominated the conversation at a Southern Baptist event on the Syrian refugee crisis Wednesday in the nation’s capital. The focus of the gathering shifted after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and evangelical leader Franklin Graham took hard stances this week against Muslim immigration.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), urged Christians to take a different approach than Trump and Graham’s proposal, which called for the immediate ban of all Muslim immigration into the United States.
“Demonization of Islam is not only wrong, but could lead to some very difficult situations in terms of security,” Moore said. “If we’re going to confront radical Islam, we’re going to have to have Muslim and Arab partners.“
Moore’s comments came at the U.S. Capitol during the ERLC’s third Capitol Conversations event, a periodic series of panel discussions on pressing policy issues. The first two events covered religious liberty and pro-life issues.
While acknowledging the importance of security, Moore dismissed Trump and Graham’s idea as one that would come back to haunt Christians: “The conversations we’ve been having over the last couple of days ought to make the hair on the back of the neck of every Christian in the U.S. stand up. It’s not only an assault on basic religious freedom, but we’ll see those same impulses turned against us in the fullness of time.”
Panelists at the event said the potent rhetoric in the presidential race is having real repercussions in both the United States and overseas. Moore said one of the greatest problems for foreign missionaries is dispelling the notion that Christianity equals America, and those barriers are growing worse, according to those on the mission field.
Jenny Yang, vice president of policy and advocacy at World Relief, recounted the story of two Afghan translators who aided the U.S. military and have since resettled in California: Last week their property was vandalized because they look like Muslims.
“Many of them feel like they’re being re-victimized,” said Yang, who noted Baptist churches across the country have been most active in ministering to refugees.
The world has more displaced people today than at any point since World War II—some 50 million, Yang said. Of those, about 20 million are refugees who have fled outside the borders of their home countries.
Moore said Christians should remember some people “we may fear may be our future brothers and sisters in Christ.” One of his fellow panelists is living proof.
Afshin Ziafat is the pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, but he was born into a devout Muslim family in Iran in 1972. His family fled during the violence of the Islamic revolution. The Iran hostage crisis began a few months after they arrived in the United States.
“I understand what it’s like to be from a place where people are suspicious of where you’re from,” Ziafat told the audience.
Ziafat said his family had car tires slashed, rocks thrown in the windows of their home, and BB guns shot at them. He and his brother were kicked off a soccer team when it was discovered they were from Iran.
But a Christian tutor saw an opportunity to spread the gospel, Ziafat said. She gave him a Bible in the second grade, and he eventually read it as a senior in high school—under a blanket with a flashlight so his parents wouldn’t know. He professed faith in Christ and later graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Today, in addition to pastoring a church, Ziafat spends time going to Turkey to teach Iranian refugees how to evangelize and preach the gospel.
“I’m just thankful that one lady looked at our family and particularly looked at me and didn’t see a threat, but saw opportunity,” he said.
Ziafat urged Christians to keep a gospel-oriented point of view on the refugee crisis: “We applaud missionaries who have an eternal perspective and take risks, but then when the mission field is coming to us all the sudden we’re saying no, get out, we want protection. The goal of a Christian shouldn’t just be to preserve my life but to expend my life for the gospel. “
J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.