Should America’s Refugee Policy Put Persecuted Christians First?

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Four Christian experts offer their take on Trump’s controversial plan.
David Curry, Nina Shea, Matthew Soerens, and Jeremy Courtney/ January 31, 2017
Should America’s Refugee Policy Put Persecuted Christians First?
Phil Roeder / Flickr
Under President Donald Trump’s new executive order, religious minorities claiming persecution will take priority over other applicants once the refugee program resumes.

Last weekend on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Trump indicated that the policy will particularly advantage persecuted Christians from the Middle East:

They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.

Since 2011, between 1 and 3 percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the US were Christians, while the proportion of Christian refugees from the country is estimated to be much larger. (CT previously looked at explanations for the disparity.) Overall, 1 in 4 refugees resettled from the seven Muslim-majority nations now restricted under Trump’s order were Christians.

While some evangelicals agree with Trump’s efforts to course-correct on behalf of persecuted brothers and sisters, many others worry about the ramifications of privileging Christians above other faiths. Arab Christian leaders in the Middle East told CT they appreciate Trump’s sentiment, but disagree with his strategy. CT asked four evangelical experts in international affairs, religious persecution, and refugee resettlement to weigh in below.

America’s Christian Preference Can Hurt Religious Freedom Elsewhere

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA

At Open Doors, we feel that it is crucial for Christian refugees and those belonging to other religious minority groups throughout the Middle East to have a safe pathway to refuge in the United States.

But we stand for a need-based resettlement approach that treats all faiths equally. We can’t support a religious test in the United States, or in any other country. Policies akin to this drive horrendous persecution of Christians around the globe. A process that prioritizes one religion over another, as the Trump administration has proposed, can have negative effects not just in America, but around the world.

Throughout the Middle East, there’s a commonly construed notion linking Christians with the United States, or the West in general. The plan to prioritize Christian refugees, while refusing or postponing entry for Muslims, is not likely to improve the situation on the ground for minority Christians in these areas. Even worse, it could tragically result in a backlash against Christians in countries plagued by Islamic extremism.

Open Doors is dedicated to holistically addressing the needs of persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries around the world. But we’re doing more than meeting needs: we’re equipping and empowering the persecuted church to be the church, reaching out in love and compassion within their communities–whether those communities are comprised of other Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Yazidis, or those belonging to another faith or no faith at all.

Every day, we see the courage of persecuted Christians living out the life of Jesus. Their lives are a shining example of the words from 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

As American Christians, we currently face a series of policies driven perhaps more by fear than by love. We encourage Christians in America to look to the persecuted church for an example of steadfast courage and radical love—and to reject the temptation to allow fear to rule our lives. We must not allow fear to blind us to the suffering of those belonging to a faith different from ours. Instead, our faith should compel us to be the first to speak out for the oppressed and displaced among us—regardless of their religion or the country they come from.