Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger.
The criticism came after recent moves by the administration to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum on a routine basis to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religoius believers.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, a son of the famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham and an outspoken defender of President Trump, said in an interview on Tuesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”
He quickly made it clear that this had not dimmed his enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, adding, “I blame the politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to where it is today.”
Leaders of many faiths — including Jews, Mainline Protestants, Muslims and others — have spoken out consistently against the president’s immigration policies. What has changed is that now the objections are coming from faith groups that have been generally friendly to Mr. Trump.
A coalition of evangelical groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sent a letter to President Trump on June 1 pleading with him to protect the unity of families and not to close off all avenues to asylum for immigrants and refugees fleeing danger.
The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination that is the nation’s largest Protestant church, passed a resolution on Tuesday at its meeting in Dallas calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.” The measure called for both securing the nation’s borders, and providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants living in the country. It passed on a near unanimous vote of the thousands of delegates in the room.
“We declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the resolution said.
The Rev. Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist minister from Montgomery, Ala., who works on immigration issues, and attended the meeting, said, “It was motivated by what is happening at the border with parents and children being separated, and messengers were affected by that and submitted resolutions.”
“It was a really strong statement,” he said. “We’re saying we love these people, they’re made in God’s image, we should care for them, we don’t want families to be separated.”
The resolution also called for elected officials, especially those who are Southern Baptists, “to do everything in their power to advocate for a just and equitable immigration system,” and for Southern Baptist churches to reach out and serve immigrant communities. This is not a new initiative for Southern Baptists, but it comes at a time when white evangelicals, according to polls, are strongly supportive of President Trump’s moves to limit immigration.
A White House representative did not respond to a request for a comment.
When Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Southern Baptists on Wednesday, his speech hailing the accomplishments of the administration received only a mixed reception.
On the same day, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, opened their meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a strong statement from the group’s president that cast asylum as a “right to life” issue — language usually applied only to issues like abortion and euthanasia.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Catholic bishops’ conference and archbishop of Galveston-Houston, denounced a recent decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that women fleeing domestic violence and families fleeing gang violence are not eligible for asylum.
“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life,” said Cardinal DiNardo in a statement he read aloud to the bishops.
The Catholic church has long advocated for the rights of immigrants and refugees, and while the bishops have criticized Mr. Trump’s immigration policies before, this letter amounted to their strongest censure yet.
“Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together,” the Cardinal wrote. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson, Ariz. suggested to the meeting that “canonical penalties” be imposed on Catholics “who are involved” in the policies of family separations, though he did not specify what he meant. Canonical penalties can involve denial of the eucharist or even excommunication. His suggestion was not adopted.
But they did take up a suggestion by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark that a delegation of bishops go to the border to inspect the detention centers where children are being held. The visit would be, he said, “a sign of our pastoral concern and protest against the hardening of the American heart.”