New York Times
By Richard Fausset and Alan Blinder
September 6, 2016
William Stocks, a white, Alabama-born, Republican-leaning member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, arrived at the tiny apartment of a Syrian refugee family on a Wednesday night after work. He was wearing a green-striped golf shirt and a gentle smile, and he was eager to teach yet another improvised session of English 101.
Mr. Stocks, 23, had recently moved to Georgia from Alabama, states where the governors are, like him, Southern Baptists. They are also among the more than 30 Republican governors who have publicly resisted the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees from war-ravaged Syria, fearing that the refugees might bring terrorism to their states.
To Mr. Stocks, such questions belonged in the realm of politics — and he had not come that evening for political reasons. Rather, he said, he had come as a follower of Christ. “My job is to serve these people,” he said, “because they need to be served.”
But politics and faith have always had the potential to conflict in the questions about resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.
And at a time when conservative politicians, many with ties to Christian religious groups, have aggressively sought to keep the Syrian newcomers out of their states, it is conservative people of faith who, in many cases, are serving as their indispensable support system.
Here in Marietta, the English lesson began around the donated kitchen table of Anwar and Daleen, two of the 10,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the United States in the past year only to grapple with that political reality, one as confusing as any new language.
Anwar and Daleen are Syrian Muslims who fled the bombings of their hometown, Tafas, in November 2012. They first crossed into Jordan, and, eventually, to this suburban sanctuary, where they settled in May in an apartment with their two children; a third child was born in August.
Here, thousands of miles from civil war, they were still so fearful of reprisals against family members in Syria that they declined to be identified by their full names.
Speaking through an interpreter, Anwar, 33, and Daleen, 27, said they were aware of the American politicians who oppose the arrival of Syrians here. They mentioned Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, who had proposed temporarily barring all Muslims from entering the United States, a position he has since modified several times.
But the political issues, they said, they knew only from television. Their closest interactions with Americans have been largely with the members of Johnson Ferry Church, like Mr. Stocks. It was members of the church, most of whom are Republicans, who outfitted their tiny apartment and showed them how to navigate America’s cavernous grocery stores.
They also steered Anwar through the health care system as he prepares for heart surgery.
“I have been here for four months,” Anwar said, “and I have seen nothing except goodness.”
Of the politicians, he said he was not afraid: “I fear only God.”
The arrival of the 10,000th Syrian refugee last month fulfilled a goal for the 2016 fiscal year that President Obama announced last September. Though they are a small fraction of the millions who have fled Syria, the concern among many conservative voters that the refugees could incubate domestic terrorism remains potent.
Gov. Robert J. Bentley of Alabama and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas have filed separate lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s refugee policy, but those efforts have sputtered in the federal courts.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, a son of the Rev. Billy Graham, has said that he agreed with Mr. Trump’s idea of a ban on immigration by Muslims. In an interview last week, Franklin Graham said that he remained concerned about gaps in the screening process for refugees, and has argued that the United States should rely on aid efforts closer to the Middle East to help resolve the humanitarian crisis.
“We’re not just leaving them on the side of the road, but we also care for this country and the people of this nation,” Mr. Graham said. “We have to put America first.”
His stance is at odds with some influential Christians, including the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. In June, the convention approved a resolution to “encourage Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue and nation to be welcomed at his throne.”
Dr. Russell D. Moore, the president of the group’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said there was “a clear distinction on this issue between the church and the rest of American society.”
Politicians, even those generally closely tied to religious conservatives, were often just being politicians, he said.
“It’s not unusual that we have politicians timid in the face of fear,” Mr. Moore said. “But the task of the church is a different one. The church is called to see the image of God in all people and to minister Christ’s presence to all people. That’s what churches are doing.”
Officials at the nongovernment organizations that resettle refugees say members of the Mormon Church have been particularly helpful in resettling Syrian refugees in states like Utah, Texas and Arizona. Mormons historically tend to favor Republicans, but some polls in the spring showed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, tied with Mr. Trump in heavily Mormon Utah, a state Democrats have not won since 1964.
Mr. Trump’s position on Muslims may be a factor. In December, soon after Mr. Trump announced his idea for a Muslim ban, the Mormon Church issued a statement reasserting its commitment to religious liberty. On Monday, the church, responding to what it called “the global refugee crisis,” donated $2 million to two groups that help resettle refugees: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the International Rescue Committee.
In Marietta, Mr. Stocks has made some strides in the three months he has been teaching Anwar and Daleen, even though he has little experience as a teacher. (Mr. Stocks is a project manager in construction.) On Wednesday, with his guidance, the couple wrote out the months of the year in English, recited their birthdays and responded to simple questions about their children. A yellow sticky note on the wall said “wall.” One on a door said “door.”
Anwar was asked what he wanted to do after recovering from his heart surgery. “Work,” he said — any kind of work.
“These are the most hospitable and loving people you’ll ever meet, which is why it’s frustrating to see the different things on the news that all these people are terrorists,” Mr. Stocks said. “They don’t know these people personally.”
Mr. Stocks’s church, Johnson Ferry, is one of 1,055 churches that in the past year worked with World Relief, an evangelical resettlement organization, to help refugees and immigrants. The Rev. Bryant Wright, the senior pastor of Johnson Ferry, acknowledged the possibility that there could be dangers in admitting the Syrians to the United States. “I know there’s risk,” he said. “I’m not being naïve.”
But Pastor Wright said that Jesus commanded his disciples, in the Book of Matthew, to “make disciples of all nations.”
He also said that there were worldly reasons to help. “Think of it from a strictly practical standpoint,” he said. “Would it be better for these people to see Americans reaching out with love, and showing them all of the blessings Americans can have? Or do we turn our backs on them, and make them more sympathetic to Islamic terrorism?”
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