Reactions to travel ban vary among Arkansas UMs

The Rev. J.J. Whitney, chaplain of United Methodist-related Hendrix College in Conway, embraces student Roshaneh Ali following a speech Ali delivered as part of a Jan. 30 on-campus demonstration opposing President Trump’s executive order that restricted immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries. Students “shared their stories, spoke their hearts, encouraged one another to act and stood as allies for our Muslim and immigrant neighbors,” Whitney said.

By Amy Forbus

United Methodists of Arkansas were among those reacting to a Jan. 27 executive order signed by President Donald Trump.

The order, which was stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, placed a 90-day ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S. and stopped refugee resettlement already in progress, some for 120 days and indefinitely for refugees from Syria. It sparked protests at locations across the U.S., including international airports receiving such travelers, state capitols and college campuses.

Hendrix College in Conway, a United Methodist-related institution, was among the schools where demonstrations were held. Students organized the Jan. 30 event via Facebook, and it included time for sharing personal stories and concerns related to the travel ban.

“Stories came from students, faculty and community members from Conway,” said the Rev. J.J. Whitney, chaplain of the college. “Students and faculty offered some helpful ways to get in touch with government officials to let voices be heard.”

Whitney expressed her personal opposition to the executive order by saying Jesus commands us to open our homes, churches, schools and communities to the stranger among us. She said the executive order “does not honor who we are as Americans, and it does not follow the way of Jesus Christ.”

First UMC Little Rock made news with two words on its digital sign: “Refugees Welcome.” Church members and at least one television station shared photos of the sign on social media, and the response was mostly positive.

“However, we did get several anonymous calls from people who were upset about it,” said the Rev. David Freeman, the church’s senior pastor. “We thanked them for their feedback and responded with grace. Most didn’t like that either…. I guess I just see that as evidence of our brokenness right now. Even those who don’t agree with those kinds of statements share in the brokenness because we’re part of that broken community.”

After a week, the church changed its sign to read, “All are welcome. Matthew 25:36.”

“It’s the same message, but many will find it less incendiary—although the first was not intended to be incendiary,” Freeman said.

Some pastors made statements on social media or to their parisioners.

The Rev. Daniel Thueson, pastor of Alma United Methodist Church, while in seminary worked at Lovers Lane UMC Dallas, where he met refugees from several different countries. He sparked discussion with a Jan. 29 Facebook post about immigration that didn’t name the executive order.

Thueson sees fear of Islamic terrorism as a common thread influencing the current political climate, but says Christians are called not to be afraid.

“When we look back at Scripture, God reminds us not to fear—that God is with us, Emmanuel,” he said. “If the disciples and the apostles lived by the kind of fear that much of our country is, they never would have spread the church.”

The Rev. Michael Daniel, pastor of Asbury UMC Magnolia, shared a statement with his congregation Jan. 30 that cited Matthew 25:34-36 and pointed out needs closer to home. The church had heard from a representative of The CALL ( in worship the previous day, so the need for more foster families in Arkansas took precedence in his thoughts.

“The idea of welcoming and housing international refugees is somewhat complicated, but protesting the president’s international action while there is such a great need domestically is only theoretical if we are unwilling to provide a literal ‘safe space’ for children right here at home who have been displaced due to tragic and often dangerous circumstances,” Daniel wrote. “It may not be a fair comparison, but why fight by protest via social media when there is a great need and a solution, quite literally, right before us? If we are unwilling to open our hearts and our homes to children whose needs are so great, how can we protest the president’s action?”

At press time, President Trump was preparing a new executive order rather than appeal the court’s ruling.