A leading voice on the religious right sharply criticized the "dangerous" anti-refugee sentiment that has permeated the recent political debate in the United States — and warned that some Republican presidential candidates may turn off Christian voters with their lack of compassion.
Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that he was shocked by the "overheated" rhetoric being employed by high-profile politicians in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
"Donald Trump is saber-rattling about shutting down mosques in this country, which, as somebody who works every day on religious liberty, I'm astounded that we could have a presidential candidate of either party speaking in such a way," Moore said. "Evangelicals should recognize that any president who would call for shutting down houses of worship ... is the sort of political power that can ultimately shut down evangelical churches."
Moore was also critical of candidates like Ted Cruz who are now arguing that the U.S. should only accept Christian refugees from Syria, not Muslims.
"I don't think we ought to have a religious test for our refugee policy," Moore said, adding that a rigorous vetting process could still make room for innocent Muslims. "We really don't want to penalize innocent women and children who are fleeing from murderous barbarians simply because they're not Christians," he said, though he added that persecuted Christians in the region haven't received enough attention from the U.S.
Moore is an influential figure in the evangelical community, and frequently goes to bat for religious social conservatives in the national media. His comments come as many Republicans are studding their campaign stump speeches with calls for a crackdown on Syrian refugees and arguing that the Paris attacks revealed how ISIS will take advantage of Western countries' generosity.
But while conservative voters generally agree that national security must come at the cost of aiding Syrian refugees, polls suggest evangelicals are split on the issue.
Moore suggests the divergent attitudes come from Christ-like compassion — and an evangelistic spirit.
"Our Muslim neighbors are not people we want to scream and rail at — we don’t want to demonize our mission field," Moore said. "I think that the evangelistic missionary impulse of Christianity that sometimes seculars present as nefarious actually is what grounds evangelicals to see individuals not as issues but as persons."
"Every person may well be our future brother, sister in Christ."