CRC Leaders Sign Another Refugee Resettlement Statement, Churches Continue Longtime Involvement

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Christian Reformed Church denominational leaders called on the administration of United States President Donald Trump to halt cuts to refugee resettlement and increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. in 2019.

The statement is one of at least seven that have been either written or signed on to by CRC leaders in the past 20 months calling for immigration reform and increases in refugee resettlement. Additionally, the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and the Centre for Public Dialogue in Canada have issued a number of “action alerts” to CRC members, asking that they contact their government representatives.

“As leaders of denominational ministries and institutions of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, we identify the proposed drastic cuts to the refugee resettlement program in the U.S. as a critical moment for the voice of the church,” the latest statement reads. “The CRC has long been a church eager to welcome refugees. And in fact, many members of our churches came as refugees themselves. Synod was particularly clear about the CRC’s commitment to refugee and immigrants in 2010.” The CRC’s statement on immigration and refugees is here.

The leaders called on CRC members to contact their congressional representatives to stand against the cuts to refugee resettlement and to pray for government leaders and refugees around the world.

Many of the CRC’s U.S. ministry leaders signed the August 31 statement, including Steven Timmermans (executive director), Colin Watson (director of ministries and administration), Reginald Smith (Office of Social Justice), Carol Bremer-Bennett (World Renew), Zachary King (Resonate Global Mission), Kurt Selles (Back to God Ministries International), as well as directors of several of the congregational ministries.

The politics and policies around immigration and refugee policies are hotly debated in the U.S., including in the Christian Reformed Church. While directors point to the statements by Synod 2010 to defend speaking to governments on behalf of the church, some church members say that isn’t the role of the institutional church. They point instead to the actions of individual churches and members as appropriate ways to address the refugee crisis.

How the church should engage on these issues featured largely at Synod 2018. Delegates to that synod asked that calls for church members to contact government officials “provide rationale that is biblical, theologically Reformed, and grounded in . . . denominational positions. . . .”

The statement released last week pointed to Synod 2010 statements as rationale and included  several Bible passages that call Christians to welcome the stranger and to come alongside the vulnerable.

The involvement of CRC members in refugee resettlement is not new to the church.

Already in the early 1960s, CRC congregations were involved in refugee issues in Cuba. Many CRCs welcomed Vietnamese and Laotian refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. Churches have sponsored refugees from El Salvador, Romania, Cambodia, Thailand, Haiti, Kosovo, Iraq, Burundi, Libya, Honduras, and other countries.

Last year, a California church hosted a “Know Your Rights” workshop for vulnerable immigrants and the churches that help them. A church in Edmonton, Alta., offers summer camp specifically for kids who are new to Canada.

A family in Wisconsin opened its own home to host a Syrian refugee family. In British Columbia, the churches hired a chaplain for refugees.

The denomination has also provided Canadian and U.S. online resources regarding refugees.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (13)


To be publicly on the record: Steven Timmermans, Colin Watson, Reginald Smith, Carol Bremer-Bennett, Mark Stephenson, Gary J. Bekker, Bonnie Nicholas, Zachary King, Syd Hielema, Joyce Borger, Sarah Roelofs, and Kurt Selles may believe they speak about political matters for the CRC, even CRC members, but they do NOT speak for me, nor my local CRC church.  (NOTE: All these people signed the statement even if not all are named in this article -- check out the link).

Indeed, CO Art 28 clearly indicates that the CRC should take up ecclesiastical matters ONLY.  This isn't one of those matters.

The OSJ has decided (check out another link provided in this article, or one of your latest email blasts from OSJ) that the CRC should tell the  United States government that it should admit a minimum of 75,000 refugees annually.  It wouldn't take too much discussion to demonstrate such a political position to be be naive, or to put it another way, a position taken without understanding or consideration the complexity of the topic.  Why just 75,000?  Why, for example, not 200,000 or even 10 million?  There are plenty of people in the world who would actually qualify for refugee status--and who would want to come to the US--for the US to take 10 million, so why not?  Why, scripturally, should we confine the refugee flow to only 75,0000?  If the US does open the doors to more, they will come.  Why close them to anyone.  Isn't scripture clear that we should "welcome the stranger?" 

And do those who already come into the country unlawfully, who may or may not qualify for refugee status (an ambiguous definition at best), count towards the 75,000?  If so, the US may well meet the OSJ mark of 75,000 already, perhaps even overshoot it.  So shouldn't we tell the US government to take in many more than 75,000?  Why shouldn't we tell the US government to simply open the doors to whoever?  Wouldn't that truly be "welcoming the stranger?" 

Or, maybe the better approach is to reduce refugees but work with peoples in foreign nations in their foreign nations to diminish the causes for refugees.  Doing that could avoid draining those nations of valuable human resources and avoid foreign governments from becoming dependent on the US as an outlet for their populations displaced on account of their political infighting, or who provide a transfer US dollars to their country.  The complexity of these issues is great indeed.  And I doubt the instititional CRC has much (any?) real in-depth expertise about all of these issues.

I'm not suggesting my own opinion about how many refugees the US should take in should rule the CRC day.  Frankly, I don't have enough time,  nor a connection to the enormous body of information and data, nor intimate working familiarity with all the political and other national and international entanglements it would take for me to opine in such a way that I felt good about offering it as a political position to stake out for my fellow CRC members or all local CRC Churches -- or to politically lobby for it in their behalves.  But that's the point: neither do Steven Timmermans, Colin Watson, Reginald Smith, Carol Bremer-Bennett, Zachary King, or Kurt Selles.  I have the modesty to admit it.

Should the CRC, including local churches, provide resources for refugees who do enter the US?  Absolutely.  My own local church has in the past, and I personally was a big part of those efforts.  Doing that work is being an institutional church.  Becoming a institutional political lobby and calling for US government refugee minimums is not.  To repeat, Steven Timmermans, Colin Watson, Reginald Smith, Carol Bremer-Bennett, Mark Stephenson, Gary J. Bekker, Bonnie Nicholas, Zachary King, Syd Hielema, Joyce Borger, Sarah Roelofs, and Kurt Selles are not my political lobbyists.  Nor is the OSJ.

Those comments about "why 75,000" reflect a logical fallacy used by many U.S. politicians. It's sad that the U.S. has only accepted 25,000 refugees this year and sadder still that the only defense people can make for this choice is that the number is arbitrary and therefore all numbers, no matter how low, are permissible.

The other, even sadder defenses, include blaming farm workers who cannot get legal immigration status for our low refugee numbers and believing a myth that any human born in a Muslim majority country is not probably not safe to have as a neighbor. Our country can do a lot better than this. We can save thousands of more lives and set families free from living in refugee camps. I'm extremely proud of the hundreds of faith leaders who are saying, "this is not just a political issue, it's a moral issue."

Exactly what was the logical fallacy you claim made in my comment Kris?

And what issues are not moral issues?

I agree with most or all of Doug's points, and I, too, have helped immigrants, including many from Muslim countries. One cannot easily, fairly, and honestly say that someone who is uncomfortable with denominational leaders pushing for a particular immigration policy or quota is anti-immigrant or not following biblical teachings.

Although it has been denied, I have great difficulty believing that some or all of these denominational statements or petitions are not politically motivated to some extent, and this makes me very unconfortable. I don't recall any such actions before the last presidential election, and the use of the quota of 75,000 refugees as the gold standard appears to be a subtle comparison of the present president with his predecessor. Indeed, I believe that at least one previous such statement called out our current president by name. In the past there were discussions of the morality of this or that position, but in the last few years the CRCNA leadership has gone from being implicit to being explicit.

I was disgusted a while ago to see a bumper sticker that said, "Vote [party name]. Those [members of the other major party] are crazy." I hope we aren't moving in that direction. We talk about welcoming diversity, including age, gender, race, socioeconomic, etc., but that should also include political. A crop of lawn signs has popped up recently that implies that those who don't share the homeowner's views are haters or unwelcoming to immigrants or are otherwise not nice persons. I think oversimplification of complex issues (such as immigration regulations) and misunderstanding or misinterpretation of someone else's views are behind some of these disgreements. Those with whom we disagree are probably right some of the time.

The CRC's deepening involvement in politics risks further dividing and dwindling our numbers. We elect politicians to deal with refugees and immigration matters in general. Let's preach Christ not politics. Give Caesar what is Caesar's ... 

I think we elect officials to represent their constituents and to make wise decisions after carefully listening to people with expertise and/or a close interest and investment in the particular topic. I think CRC leaders would be remiss to be silent on the sidelines when they have an important word to contribute to the public square. 

Kris: I have a different take on the "why we elect officials" question.

I participate in electing "political officials" in order that they focus in my behalf on those political and legal issues (that's their job), and then make decisions about political and legal matters.

I participate in electing (wrong word but still) my CRC council members (who "elect" reps to classis, who "elect reps to synod, etc) in order that they focus on institutional church matters (that's there job), and then make decisions about those institutional church matters.

It seems to me that your suggestion fails to differentiate different officials, and their different jobs.  I don't belong to the CRC because I think its denominational agency heads or executive director are good political/legal theorists, or understand the political and legal ins and outs of federal immigration law or policy.  Putting the CRC Church Order aside (i.e., Art 28, which quite clearly says the institutional church should only take on ecclesiastical matters), why should I want questions decided in my behalf by leaders/representatives who don't have expertise in the matters they are deciding in my behalf? 

I don't ask my political representatives to be my decision makers about theological or church operation matters.  Why would I then want my denomination's agency heads or executive director to be my decision makers about political and legal matters?

You have it backwards Doug. Refugee resettlement is an institutional church ministry and churches are needing to close or decrease these ministries because the government will not allow them to keep doing it at the same levels. So in this case the government IS making very direct decisions about church operations and that decision is to strangle their resettlement ministries. 

Kris: Your response suggests that the CRC needs to lobby for greater refugee influx to the United States because the CRC has created an infrastructure for an  industry, that being refugee resettlement, that is now idled ("strangled" to use your word) if the government does not allow as many refugees.  Is that what this lobbying effort is all about -- to put CRC refugee resettlement infrastructure to work (and presumably to receive US federal funding to resettle refugees)?

If so, the CRC has simply grown far too dependent on US federal policy (including funding to do resettlement work).

Your suggestion notwithstanding, I don't think I have it backwards at all.

Kris, I'm afraid that I agree with Doug on this one. However, I have a perspective that I haven't run into elsewhere and from my point of view means that the CRC leaders' statement is sadly misplaced if they want to get in that business. For real improvement they should be addressing the Canadian government to copy Angela Merkel's Germany and her "welcoming culture" which welcomed well over a million refugees/undocumented immigrants/queue-jumpers(from my Canadian relatives) until essentially she shut it down.  Canada like Germany and unlike the U.S., Italy, Greece etc is not a port of entry for refugees/undocumented immigrants etc. Recently I read a Toronto Globe and Mail contributor state that Canada only absorbs about 20,000 crossing their border with the U.S. Add that to those officially let in and they are still well short of the hundreds of thousands of "immigrants" (I believe I am using the OSJ's designation that lumps legal and undocumented together)the U.S. absorbs every year and has for decades. Just think how the U.S. could up its official refugee program if Canada would institute a "welcoming culture" for one or two million of the eleven million such refugees presently in the U.S.  Doug, what do you think?

Sorry, Doug but you are still getting it wrong. It isn't that the Church, which goes beyond the CRC by the way, is looking for money from the government to do this work. It is that they are restricted in how many people they are allowed to resettle, period.

If the Church in the U.S. said, "we want to work together to support 100,000 refugees and will pay for 100% of the costs out of our own budgets," they still couldn't do it because the government decided if they want to go beyond 30,000 the answer is NO. 

(There are actually websites who are trying to vilify refugee resettlement work as some scheme to get rich off the government but given the purpose driving though sites I would not give them a lot of credit.)   

Kris: With respect, I'm not sure how I'm getting this wrong.  I have read from sources other than you that church resettlement service (including that beyond the CRC) are in fact concerned about the refugee volume downturn because of how that will affect the service providing structures they have in place.

And I'm quite on your side if you are suggesting that the institutional church should say to the federal government, essentially: "if refugees come here, we will welcome and support them."  Indeed, I have suggested this more than once in the past.

But this isn't what these CRCNA leaders, nor the OSJ, are saying.  Insteady, they are lobbying the federal government to set a minimum national volume for refugees -- that at least 75,000 refugees each year by government policy/rule.  This -- how many refugees to allow in each year -- is a question the government should decide, not the institutional church, and if the government gets input that input on that, such input should not come from the institutional CRC, even if individual CRCers (acting by themselves and/or through groups of like-minded citizens) might provide input to the extent they make themselves aware of the issues involved.

I think refugee admission (and immigration admission), from a government/law/political point of few, is a really, really, complex issue, and one that Christians of good faith (CRCers of good faith) will disagree about.  It should not be the case that CRCNA agency heads, nor OSJ, make the decision to tell the federal government -- as the CRC -- that it should set a minimum of allowing 75,000 refugees per year.  You had indicated (above comment) that "this was a moral issue."  Perhaps it is, but then (as I had said) all issues involve moral dimensions.  If that's the test for institutional church involvement, then CO Art 28 has no meaning at all.  

Bernard: You ask: "Doug, what do you think?"

Hmmm.  Intriguing suggestion that I'd not given thought to.  But then, I tend to not quickly opine about Canadian policy, immigration/refuge or otherwise, because I'm not Canadian and insufficiently informed (in my view) to meaningfully opine.

Having said that, it seems to me that your suggestion does provide additional evidence as to how complicated subject matters we can refer to with a single, simple word (e.g., "refugees") can be.

I do know that unlawful immigrants over the southern border (some with refugee claims, some without refugee claims) are looking to move further north to Canada.  I suspect that will continue, possibly increase.  And I know that Canada has a much lower population/land density than the US, which suggests the possibility that a higher volume of immigration to Canada could be more of a win-win in Canada.  I wish the US and Canada would get their heads together more on this issue than bang them.

I also think US law regarding refugees should be be amended a bit.  While I think true refugees (a subject matter that deserves its own extended discussion) should be rather openly received, if those same refugees -- or at least some of them -- also understand that, depending on the cause for their refugee status, they would be required to return to their country (when the cause for the status ameliorated), that would be a more contructive approach.  Certainly, there would be inconvenience in that change for the refugees (shuffling their lives), but it would reduce the human resource drain from other countries and tell other governments that they don't have the option of exporting their "political problem people" to other countries.

Refugees are something different than non-refugee immigrants.  Non-refugee immigrants choose to come to the US, and in so doing, choose to live under the US constitutional government structure we have.  True refugees don't necessarily choose that (I'm not saying some don't, but merely that their immediate cause for their coming to the US is otherwise).  Especially when there is great political turmoil (e.g., present day middle east), government must be cautious about rules for allowing taking in a certain volume of refugees.  I'm not suggesting what the answer is to these questions, but merely that the questions aren't simple, and the answers to them aren't so easily found.  Deciding about wise government policy isn't as easy, or straight-forward, as most people think.  This is why candidates for political office often change their tune on policies once they are elected and have to make decision about what they so confidently advocated for on the campaign trail.  This is also why CRCNA leaders and the OSJ should not lobby for highly specific government policy (e.g., that is accept a minimum of 75,000 refugees per year).