Conservative, pro-life Christians needn’t fear having to dismantle their biblical values or abandon their concern for secure borders to view and serve immigrants and refugees with compassion, said the leader of a national women’s ministry dedicated to promoting hospitality.
“I don’t have to deconstruct my orthodox views to love immigrants,” said Colorado Springs, Colo., resident Bri Stensrud, director of Women of Welcome, a joint project of World Relief and the National Immigration Forum. “We are trying to create on-ramps into the issue from a biblical perspective for conservative to moderate women who are in an orthodox theological space.”
One of those on-ramps includes connecting pro-life beliefs to the many passages of Scripture that demand concern for immigrants and refugees. “When you dig into the Bible, you see the connectivity of other human dignity issues, and you see that he (Jesus) doesn’t just care about preborn children,” she said.
Stensrud is no liberal or progressive, although her teaching and speaking on immigration often gets her labeled as one, she said. The mother of two grew up a preacher’s kid in the Evangelical Free Church of America, earned a master of biblical and theological studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and previously worked on pro-life causes for Focus on the Family.
Early on, she saw her father and his church model a biblically inspired openness toward the stranger, which in her Iowa college town usually meant caring for international students. “We were always in the position of welcome, so of course we were going to welcome immigrants and of course we weren’t going to mind diversity.”
The experience also was an introduction to how messy such ministry can be, she said. “I became very well aware of what investing in other people’s lives is going to look like. People have a lot of complicated issues.”
But Stensrud said she didn’t perceive immigration as a sanctity-of-life issue until news broke that the Trump administration was detaining migrant children in deplorable conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I don’t have to deconstruct my orthodox views to love immigrants.”
“I had a lightbulb moment” at a Starbucks where she spotted a newspaper photo of a 12-year-old migrant caring for a 3-year-old migrant in a U.S. detention facility, she explained. “Something just shifted in me.”
That included a widening of her understanding of what constitutes a “life” issue. The Bible’s “quartet of the vulnerable” — the widow, the orphan, the poor and the sojourner — came rushing back to her.
“Scripture showed me I can’t prioritize one over the other,” she said. “I was hard-pressed to find Scripture that justifies prioritizing one vulnerable population over another.”
What “pre-born” and detained migrant children have in common, Stensrud added, is that they both are made in the image of God: “You can’t split hairs about whose life is actually more important.”
Nor should politically charged arguments about border security negate Scripture’s clear call to minister to and comfort the marginalized, she added. “I just don’t believe that is a kingdom-minded approach. We can have compassion and safe borders. It’s a both-and. From a kingdom perspective, we are not to look at people as burdens.”
Increasingly, conservative and moderate Christian women are sensing that fact and seeking ways to act, she said. Women of Welcome’s Facebook and Instagram followings are strong and growing as it offers “connect groups” and Bible studies, blogs, films and a series of “While in Our Care” videos in which women read the testimonies of incarcerated migrant children. The organization also hosted well-attended trips to the border before the pandemic.
“Women are hungry to do kingdom work, and this is a place they can feel good about that,” Stensrud said.
“Christian women have long been on the forefront of welcoming refugees and other immigrants to the United States.”
Many women come from church communities where their views are considered suspect, she reported. “But they say their heart has been stirred, that the Lord is doing something in them, and they didn’t have a place to go.”
While they find the community they are seeking in Women of Welcome, their participation often gets them branded as “progressives,” Stensrud said. “I have gotten that label from people in my own small group. But when the Lord starts doing something in you and you are compelled, labels feel really lazy.”
And the ministry is making a difference, said Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy for World Relief.
“In our decades of experience at World Relief, Christian women have long been on the forefront of welcoming refugees and other immigrants to the United States, making up the significant majority of our volunteers,” he said. “We’re grateful Women of Welcome is providing a safe place to explore what the Bible says about immigration and to apply these biblical commands to the complex and sometimes heartbreaking dynamics of immigration, refugees and asylum in the U.S. The response has affirmed that there’s a hunger for a different kind of conversation about immigrants, rooted in compassion.”
Stensrud said it comes down to God speaking through Scripture about caring for the vulnerable — just as she believes God speaks on the issue of abortion. “As we fight for heartbeat bills, which are good things, what about the heartbeat of the migrant child at the border?”
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