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Southern Baptist Convention Urges Churches To Welcome Refugees


Southern Baptists are one of the most conservative, reliably Republican groups in the country. But at a convention in St. Louis this week, they differed from the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution urging churches to welcome refugees. And Baptist leader Russell Moore defended Muslims' right to worship.


RUSSELL MOORE: Sometimes we have really hard decisions to make. This isn't one of those things. What it means to be a Baptist...


MOORE: ...Is to support soul freedom for everybody.

MCEVERS: And with us now to talk about this is NPR's Sarah McCammon. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So first let's talk about the resolutions on refugees and Muslims. Was this a long time coming, or was this a response to Donald Trump?

MCCAMMON: Well, the refugee issue has been brewing for a while. You may remember that last November, in the wake of the Paris attacks when a lot of Republicans were calling for blocking Syrian refugees from entering the country, the National Association of Evangelicals and a lot of other religious groups, including Catholic and Jewish groups, made statements in support of refugees.

But this week, in the wake of Orlando, we heard Trump essentially expand on his proposal. He says he would bar anyone from countries with a terrorist presence from coming in. So church groups I've talked to say they're worried about that. A lot of them are active with welcoming refugees, and they don't believe in a religious test for anyone, they say, and note that such a policy would likely bar Christians and other religious minorities fleeing violence along with Muslims.

MCEVERS: So has Donald Trump responded to these resolutions from the Southern Baptists?

MCCAMMON: No, not directly to the Southern Baptists. But you know, he's often touted his popularity with evangelicals. Evangelicals, Southern Baptists are a really important constituency for a Republican nominee. And this is the kind of issue that's been giving some of them pause and some concern about Donald Trump as their nominee, especially for those faithful churchgoers who vote based on their faith.

You know, Trump often lists off pastors and faith leaders who are supporting him, but he's also willing to go after his critics. For example, Russell Moore, who we heard from earlier, has called him a lost soul in need of repentance. Trump fired back at Moore on Twitter last month, calling him a nasty guy with no heart.

MCEVERS: The Southern Baptists also came out against the display of the Confederate battle flag. Talk about the politics around that.

MCCAMMON: The church has its roots in the South and in the history of segregation. You know, Baptists split apart over the slavery issue before the Civil War. That gave birth to the Southern Baptist Church. They much later apologized for that. But you know, the murders of nine people at an African-American church in Charleston about a year ago touched off a renewed debate over the flag which has been popular in parts of the Deep South.

So this year, the Southern Baptist Convention took that up and basically passed language saying that - standing up against, you know - repudiating the display of the flag, quote, "in solidarity with our African-American brothers and sisters."

MCEVERS: And the convention also issued a statement about the victims of the Orlando shooting. Did they speak specifically about gay rights?

MCCAMMON: No, they did not in that resolution. The church still views marriage as between a man and a woman, something they reaffirmed in another resolution calling for freedom of conscience. This is an idea that many religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage are talking about in the wake of controversies over whether businesses, say, have to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

So the Southern Baptist Convention has not changed its theological position on that. Though I will say the outgoing president, Ronnie Floyd, said publicly on the convention floor that, quote, "an attack against gay Americans in Orlando is an attack against each one of us."

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon on the recent Southern Baptist Convention. Thank you so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.