The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other evangelical Christian organizations urged President Joe Biden Aug. 17 to fulfill a long-standing commitment to protect and resettle America’s Afghan allies, as well as others at risk of persecution by the Taliban.
Leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) made the request in a letter to the president as the United States military continued evacuation flights out of Kabul.
Afghanistan’s capital fell to the militant Islamic terrorist group Aug. 15. The takeover of Kabul completed a rapid conquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban as the United States neared a complete withdrawal of troops after nearly 20 years in the Central Asian country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Taliban reportedly has already begun a campaign of retribution against some Afghans.
“Despite the deteriorating situation, it is of utmost moral urgency that the U.S. government keeps our commitment” made often during the last 20 years and affirmed by Biden, the EIT leaders told the president.
“As Christians, we believe that each person is made with intrinsic value in the image of God, and we cannot treat any person’s life as expendable,” the letter said. “Our government has a particular obligation to those who are now facing threats upon their lives due to their service to the United States, and to go back on our commitment to them would be a moral failing with reverberating consequences for decades to come.”
The Biden administration should make sure the Afghans who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas because they worked as interpreters or otherwise served the United States, as well as their immediate families, “are safely evacuated from Afghanistan and to a safe location for processing,” according to the letter.
The EIT leaders also said the United States should seek to protect others who may not qualify for Special Immigrant Visas but are likely to be persecuted by the Taliban, “including Christians and other religious minorities, women and girls who have pursued the opportunity for education.” The Biden administration should prioritize for resettlement in the United States those who choose to flee Afghanistan as refugees, according to the letter.
Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton said he is “heartbroken over the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.”
“I urge Southern Baptists to continue to pray fervently for our brothers and sisters who are in grave danger at this time,” Litton said in written comments Aug. 17. “We must also pray for all those who are suffering or living in fear as a result of this political and humanitarian crisis.”
Litton, senior pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Ala., said he is “confident Southern Baptists will join together with believers across America to welcome and share the love of Christ with those who would seek refuge here.”
In their letter, the EIT leaders said, “As has been true for decades, evangelical churches in the United States stand ready to welcome persecuted individuals and families resettled to their communities.”
Daniel Patterson, the ERLC’s acting president, signed the letter, as did the following organization presidents: Scott Arbeiter, World Relief; Walter Kim, National Association of Evangelicals; Gabriel Salguero, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Shirley Hoogstra, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Chris Palusky, Bethany Christian Services; and Hyepin Im, Faith and Community Empowerment.
The EIT leaders urged Biden to expand the processing of refugees to the United States as part of the Priority 2 designation of some Afghans by the U.S. State Department. They called for an exception to the requirement that people be in a third country to qualify for P-2 status.
It is his understanding the “vetting process for refugees” in P-2 or another program is “very thorough,” said Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy.
“We’re not urging the U.S. to cut any corners on vetting or bring unvetted individuals directly to the U.S. (we want people to be carefully vetted just like all Americans, of course!), but … we believe they should be evacuated so they can be safe while the processing is completed,” Soerens told Baptist Press in written remarks. “Only then would they be brought to the U.S. to be welcomed by resettlement agencies and our church partners.”
Christians are among several religious minorities that face persecution at the hands of the Taliban.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan panel of nine members, “is gravely concerned for ALL Afghan citizens, including religious minorities such as the Shia (including Ismailis) who have faced persecution at the hands of the Taliban in the past,” said Nadine Maenza, chair of the commission, in a written statement Aug. 17.
“The imposition of the Taliban’s harsh and strict interpretation of Islam in the areas that they have taken over violates the freedom of religion or belief of Afghans who do not share these beliefs,” she said.
Taliban members are militant Sunni Muslims, while Ismailis make up a branch of Shiite Islam.
Mindy Belz, senior editor of WORLD Magazine who covered the conflict in Afghanistan, reported Aug. 13 on Twitter the Taliban had sent letters to house church leaders with the warning “they know where they are and what they are doing.” In an Aug. 15 post, Belz said the house church leaders “want to stay but it is hard to see how they will survive.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)