SAMANTHA, Ala. — The pastor of a small church in Tuscaloosa County has sparked quite a controversy inside the evangelical community after stating in a letter to the editor of the Alabama Baptist newspaper that Syrian refugees are the same type of idol worshipers God instructed his people to destroy in the Old Testament.
Pastor Ted Sessoms of Arbor Springs Baptist Church in Samantha, Alabama, expressed frustration with other Baptist leaders who have advocated for allowing refugees to enter the country.
“Perhaps our leaders should study the Old Testament when God gave specific instructions to destroy these people, even their women, children and animals,” he wrote.
The full letter to the editor reads as follows:
At the risk of being an outcast or considered a narrow-minded bigot, I must express my disagreement and disappointment with out Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis. I am against allowing the refugees the rights to America’s soil and my neighborhood. These are the same people that hate America, hate Christians and have vowed to take over the world by destroying our way of life. Perhaps our leaders should study the Old Testament when God gave specific instructions to destroy these people (even their women, children and animals). Why would He give such instructions? Because He knew the impact these idol worshippers of false gods would have on His people. It is not a matter of loving your neighbor. My neighbors are the people that value the same standards of life and way of life that I value.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make good decisions for their future in America. And opening up our country to ten of thousands of refugees with their unknown background but known hatred for Christianity and America will destroy any future our children may have.
These are the same people that are willing to give their lives to carry out their commitment to Allah. They don’t have to be considered terrorists to hate Christians. Their religious conviction cause them that hatred.
What we will see is not more SBC churches being established but more mosques. What we will see is their way and their customs being forced on us to either observe or make way for us to give up our rights to observe their rights. They are victims of a more powerful force of Muslims within their own country but they are not victims when it comes to their lifelong hatred of us and our belief in Christ. It makes no sense to say to them, “I know you hate us and I know you want to destroy our country and way of life, and I know you will eventually find a way to kill us, but come on it anyways and live among us until you gain the strength and power to overcome us.” Has the SBC been turned over to a reprobate mind?
Ted Sessoms, Pastor
Arbor Springs Baptist Church
Several of the Baptist leaders Pastor Sessoms was writing about responded via social media.
Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, called the letter “garbage” and said he was surprised the Alabama Baptist newspaper would publish it.
— Dean Inserra (@deaninserra) January 26, 2016
Danny Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, called it an “embarrassment to the gospel.”
Quite simply this is an embarrassment to the gospel and the one who told us to love our neighbor and our enemies. https://t.co/vExlBjdyAD
— Daniel Akin (@DannyAkin) January 27, 2016
Dr. Akin’s statement was retweeted by numerous evangelical leaders, including Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention’s top public policy spokesman. Moore has been one of the evangelical community’s most outspoken proponents of accepting Syrian refugees.
“I don’t think we ought to have a religious test for our refugee policy,” said Moore. “We really don’t want to penalize innocent women and children who are fleeing from murderous barbarians simply because they’re not Christians.”
But while many Alabama Christians may bristle at Pastor Sessom’s “destroy these people” rhetoric, the actions of the state’s political leaders indicate that the majority of voters — including Alabama’s large bloc of evangelicals — are against allowing Middle Eastern refugees into the country, particularly due to concerns with the reliability of the vetting process.
Governor Robert Bentley was among the first governors in the country to public declare his intension to reject any refugees the federal government tried to place in his state.
“I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” Bentley said in a statement at the time. “I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”
Alabama Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions voted in favor of pausing the issuance of visas to more than thirty countries “at a high risk for exporting terrorists.” And Senator Shelby and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) pushed to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit governors to reject the resettlement of refugees in their state after legal experts questioned their authority to do so.
“We simply cannot trust this Administration to put in place the rigorous vetting system needed to ensure that the refugees who enter our nation will not be future threats to the American people and our way of life,” said Shelby.
To this point, no Syrian refugees have been placed in Alabama, and Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Mobile is the only organization in the state that works with the State Department to house refugees.
Though the CSS is part of the church’s Archdiocese of Mobile, the program is completely funded by the federal government. CSS volunteer outreach coordinator Erin Dunn told Yellowhammer last year the service is equipped to provide assistance to up to 130 new refugees this year.
“We work with them for about 6 months to help them become self sufficient,” explained Dunn. “We have various programs that our case managers walk them through, and we have a job developer that helps them find jobs, and case managers work on connecting them to local resources… As volunteer outreach coordinator, I work with volunteers who are willing to help teach them English, or take them to the grocery store, or teach them how to ride the bus. It’s pretty much everything you can think of to help orient them to the city so after six months they’re able to be self sufficient.”
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the State Department will provide $1,850 per refugee for the first three months of assistance, to be used for reception, initial housing, food, clothing, referrals services and social programs.
If the refugees are not able to find a job in those first three months, or are precluded from doing so due to a disability, they are eligible for many welfare programs, including Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income.