A senior official in the Presbyterian Church has slammed Donald Trump's rhetoric on immigration, branding his views "not in keeping with the policies adopted by our church".
Gradye Parsons, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), told the Guardian that the official policy of the Church is to "encourage immigration reform". It has voted a number of times to petition for a path to citizenship for undocumented persons living in America.
"It is clear that God wants us to act on behalf of the stranger. Jesus himself and his parents had to flee the country for their lives when he was born – there are lots of parallels," Parsons said.
Republican presidential candidate Trump has been widely criticised for his hard line on immigration. He has pledged to build a wall to slow down the number of Mexicans entering the United States, and in July last year claimed that Mexican immigrants were responsible for a significant number of rapes in America. He has also called for a ban on all Muslim immigrants; a line that was later used by Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab to suggest that America discriminated against its Islamic population.
Trump has also, however, repeatedly identified as a Christian, and has campaigned hard for the evangelical vote. He was baptised into the Presbyterian Church as a child, and has promised to protect Christians if he takes office later this year.
Last week, Pope Francis suggested that Trump "is not Christian" because he has focused on "building walls...not building bridges".
The Vatican later insisted that this was not a "personal attack" on Trump, but the presidential candidate still branded the Pontiff "disgraceful" for having questioned his faith.
Parsons said Trump's views "are not in keeping with the policies adopted by our Church by deliberative process".
He refused to speculate on Trump's personal faith, but said: "Biblical mandates are important – how people care for the oppressed and the alien acts as a marker of whether they are following their faith."
In October last year, Parsons wrote an open letter to Trump in which he drew attention to Jesus' status as a refugee and highlighted the Presbyterian Church's "commitment to welcome".
"Presbyterians through decades of policy have demanded humane treatment of people of all nationalities and faiths who find themselves within our borders," he said.
"We have challenged our government when it neglects to acknowledge the refugee status of those fleeing persecution. We have pushed for due process at the border and we continue to petition for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented persons.
"As a Presbyterian I acknowledge my immigrant ancestors and my new immigrant sisters and brothers. I also respect that we came uninvited to a land already occupied by people. This creates a sense of humility about my citizenship that shapes my views on those who seek a place here. I hope you will find this helpful. I especially hope it will inform you on your policies going forward."