INSIDE: An in-depth look at how local religious leaders are reacting to the president’s travel ban.
Following President Donald Trump's Friday afternoon executive order blocking travel from seven Middle Eastern and African countries, some local religious leaders reacted with outrage. Others were more ambivalent, choosing to respond tentatively until they have more information.
The Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, pastor at Lime Rock Baptist Church in Lincoln, called it a “horrible idea.”
“It's just not the American way,” he said. “I think that the president is acting recklessly; even the way he did it, there was no regard for procedure. But the whole idea of a Muslim ban is reprehensible, and my sense is this is exactly what it is.”
Trump's executive order bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – all Muslimmajority countries – from entering the United States for 90 days. The Department of Homeland Security was not asked to do a legal review of the order before Trump signed it, The New York Times reported.Many argue that Trump's action is not a Muslim ban. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, an early supporter, told Fox News on Saturday that when Trump first announced his idea for a Muslim ban, he called Giuliani and asked how he could do it legally.
In response, Dyszlewski has been in contact with Mufti Ikram ul Haq, Imam of the mosque Masjid Al-Islam in North Smithfield.
Mufti Ikram invited Dyszlewski's congregation to the mosque on Friday, and the two leaders will share the pulpit.
“The last thing you want to do is listen to two preachers, but I promised to everyone this will be brief,” Dyszlewski joked. “Everyone said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.'”
Lime Rock Baptist Church has also invited the mosque congregation into its doors.
Dyszlewski has no plans to establish a sanctuary congregation there, saying it's a complicated issue that will take a lot of discussion. But he also does community ministry work at First Unitarian Church of Providence, which he said will be a sanctuary church.
The Rev. Don Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, put out a call for sanctuary congregations last week. This came Jan. 25, the same day as an executive order from Trump stripping federal funding from sanctuary cities, except as law mandates.
RISCC has announced a working session for congregations and individuals interested in the sanctuary movement. It will be held next Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Providence.
“If they're coming for a rally, they're going to be disappointed,” Anderson clarified. “This is going to be: roll up our sleeves, ask questions, answer what we can.”
Anderson said that meeting attendees will include Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island executive director Kathleen Cloutier and immigration lawyer Roberto Gonzalez.
Sanctuary congregations, he added, would need to determine how to providence food, tutoring, legal aid, translators, and ways for refugees to entertain themselves. Anderson also noted that a Muslim family could be living in a Christian church and questioned what accommodations would need to be made “so they can have full expression” of their faith.
“We really hope we never have to do this, but if we do have to do this, we want to do it well,” Anderson said of establishing sanctuary congregations. He added that his hope is that people living in fear “can at least have some degree of comfort knowing that if somebody comes after them, there is a place” they can go.
The Rev. Kurt Walker, pastor at Chapel Street Congregational Church in Lincoln, said he and members of his congregation will attend RISCC's meeting on Feb. 6.
Then on Feb. 12 will be a congregational meeting to discuss the logistics of becoming a sanctuary congregation. Like many other churches, one issue facing Chapel Street Congregational Church is the lack of a full bathroom.
The congregation already had a meeting on the issue this past Sunday. Walker believes that “100 percent of the congregation is behind wanting to become a sanctuary congregation,” but there is hesitancy concerning logistics and viability.
“It's an expectation that God has of us to constantly be reaching out to those on the margins,” Walker said, “to those persecuted, to those oppressed, to those strangers in a strange land who are often told that there's no room for them at the inn.”
Walker went on to say that it's important to recognize the number of times God calls on people to be hospitable and “radically opening” to those “who may not look like us, who may not sound like us, who may not even have the same beliefs as us.”
Bishop Herson Gonzalez, pastor at Calvary Worship Center in Woonsocket, will also be attending the working session on Monday. While Gonzalez said he is going with an open mind, he differs from Walker in that he is not going as an enthusiastic supporter of sanctuary congregations.
Gonzalez is feeling conflicted.
On one hand, he believes that laws on the books should be enforced and that people need to be in the United States legally. But he doesn't want to see people get deported, and he would hate to see families torn apart.
“I think the church needs to find a nice balance between compassion and obeying the law, and that's going to be different for every pastor and every church,” he said.
Gonzalez was also uncertain about the reactions he saw over the weekend.
“People who are opponents to Donald Trump and opponents to the conservative worldview, they're demonizing what's happening to the point where they're causing hysteria,” he said. “I think we need to speak calmly and try to work through this lovingly and within the realms of the law.”
Similarly, the Rev. David Pierce – pastor at Four Corners Community Chapel in Cumberland – expressed a desire to understand concerns before acting.
“I certainly want to make sure that if there is a need that is out there, that we don't dismiss it by any means,” Pierce said, “but I also just want to learn about it at this point. I want to make sure that we appropriately place our concern.”
He doesn't want his congregants to “be afraid of the wrong things” and is therefore focused on “accurately placing our fear.”