U.S. pastors 'twice as likely to fear refugees than to help them,' LifeWay survey shows

Stranded refugees and migrants try to bring down part of the border fence during a protest at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, on Feb. 29, 2016.Reuters

Even though Protestant churches believe that Christians should always be ready to help refugees and foreigners, a new survey from LifeWay Research revealed that pastors are "twice as likely to fear refugees than to help them."

"Pastors believe Scripture tells Christians to care for refugees and foreigners," Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, told Charisma News. "Yet many admit their church is not involved in such ministry."

LifeWay Research called 1,000 Protestant senior pastors back in January for the survey. They found out that more than eight in 10 (or 86 percent) agree Christians should "care sacrificially for refugees and foreigners." Only one in 10 disagrees.

Eighty percent of the pastors consider it a "privilege" to care for refugees, while one in eight (or 13 percent) disagrees.

Two-thirds of them (67 percent) say the U.S. can balance national security interests with compassion when assisting refugees, while a quarter (or 28 percent) of them are sceptical. Six percent answered they are not sure.

As positive as their answers were, LifeWay discovered that only a few churches have actually done something to help refugees. One in five pastors (19 percent) say their church has helped or is helping refugees overseas. One in three (35 percent) have addressed the Syrian refugee crisis only from the pulpit. More than four out of 10 (44 percent) fear the thought of refugees coming to the U.S.

"It's encouraging to see the American church understands God's call to serve and care for refugees and foreigners, but what's needed now is action," said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. "This is a test of the relevance of the church in our world."

Meanwhile, pastors from different denominations also have different ideas as to how the church should respond to refugees. Presbyterian (96 percent), Lutheran (85 percent) and Methodist (85 percent) pastors say caring for refugees is a privilege. Baptists (77 percent) and Pentecostals (68 percent) are less certain with their answers, while Pentecostals (42 percent) are doubtful that the U.S. can balance compassion and national security.

On the other hand, Presbyterians (93 percent), Lutherans (73 percent), and Methodists (76 percent) are more confident about it.

Half of Baptist (56 percent) and Pentecostal (50 percent) pastors admitted there's a sense of fear in their church about refugees coming to the U.S. The same fear is expressed by a third of Lutherans (33 percent) and about three in 10 Presbyterians (29 percent).

White pastors (46 percent) are more fearful of refugees than pastors of other ethnicities (33 percent), and most of them have only discussed the Syrian refugee crisis from the pulpit (37 percent) compared to other pastors.