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Evangelical Groups Tell Political Leaders: 'Jesus Was A Refugee'

Tom Compton, associated with a Christian antiwar group, joins a few dozen supporters for the welcoming of Syrian refugees during a rally at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined a growing number of governors calling for an immediate halt to placement of new refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris. i

Tom Compton, associated with a Christian antiwar group, joins a few dozen supporters for the welcoming of Syrian refugees during a rally at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined a growing number of governors calling for an immediate halt to placement of new refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris. Ross D. Franklin/AP hide caption

toggle caption Ross D. Franklin/AP
Tom Compton, associated with a Christian antiwar group, joins a few dozen supporters for the welcoming of Syrian refugees during a rally at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined a growing number of governors calling for an immediate halt to placement of new refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris.

Tom Compton, associated with a Christian antiwar group, joins a few dozen supporters for the welcoming of Syrian refugees during a rally at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined a growing number of governors calling for an immediate halt to placement of new refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

As many leading conservatives call for stopping Syrian refugees from entering the United States, several evangelical Christian organizations are pushing back.

Since last week's attacks in Paris, at least 30 governors in this country, mostly Republicans, have called for keeping Syrian refugees out of the U.S.

Fewer than 2,000 have been admitted. House Speaker Paul Ryan is backing legislation to make the screening process in place even stricter. President Obama has promised to veto that bill.

Republican presidential candidates are weighing in, too. Dr. Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are among those asking Congress to block refugees from Syria. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has suggested allowing only Christians to enter and resettling Muslims elsewhere. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is calling for banning visas for all travelers from any country with an "ISIS presence."

All of those positions are rooted in security concerns, since authorities in Greece said one of the terrorists in Paris last week came into Europe with other migrants, carrying a Syrian passport.

But politicians who oppose settling more refugees from Syria and Iraq could risk alienating some evangelical voters, a key voting bloc for Republicans. The National Association of Evangelicals has issued a statement calling for continued resettlement of Syrian refugees.

President Leith Anderson said his faith teaches the importance of "compassion for those who are in need. And that's a long American tradition as well as a Christian principle."

Anderson points to a famous story in the Bible, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped a traveler who'd been beaten and robbed after others passed him by.

"[He] came and took a risk, and helped, and invested his own money. People often know the story of the good Samaritan, but they forget how Jesus ended it. And his last words were, 'Go and do likewise.' So he's calling on Christians, his followers, to be good Samaritans," Anderson said.

Anderson said he hopes evangelical churches will continue to step forward and offer to house Syrian refugees. He pointed out that some are Christians fleeing persecution, but he said no one should be subject to a religious requirement to receive help.

"If a child is suffering, if a child, a family, has been forced out of their home, are we really going to put them through a religious test in order to protect their lives? I hope not," Anderson said.

Matthew Soerens is U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, an offshoot of the National Association of Evangelicals and one of nine groups approved by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees.

"Jesus himself was a refugee. He fled as a small child to Egypt when there was a tyrannical government threatening his life. So as Christians we don't really have a choice but to welcome refugees," he said.

Evangelicals aren't alone; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put out a statement warning against using the Paris attacks "to scapegoat all refugees." Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have made a plea for Americans not to "hide in fear," but to offer "generous hospitality" to Syrians in need.

Soerens said he's been hearing from evangelical leaders around the country who are concerned about the move to keep out Syrian refugees — and that could have ramifications for Republicans vying for evangelical support.

"I think it's the wrong decision morally," Soerens said. "But I also think it could be a poor political position. I think a lot of candidates very quickly took a position, and I think that they may not realize the voters that they could be alienating with that position."

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