Q&A on Welcoming Refugees with Jeremy Courtney
Jeremy Courtney is founder & CEO of Preemptive Love Coalition, a community of peacemakers who provide front lines relief and long-term development in areas of polarizing conflict. He is the author of Preemptive Love and the forthcoming Love Anyway. Courtney lives in Iraq with his wife and two children. In the following interview, Courtney comments on some of Barna’s recent findings related to Americans’ perspectives on immigrants and refugees.
Q. One in four Americans believes most terrorism is perpetrated by Muslims. How do you address this fear?
A. Media over-reporting on Islamist terror and wars in Muslim countries gives a distorted view of reality. When we hear about Muslim terror four times more than it deserves, I’m not surprised by this negative perception. But “facts” don’t compel us to take great risks. So I share stories from my 15 years in Muslim countries from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Somalia and Sudan. I have friends among the wealthiest and the poorest. We’ve been guests in the homes of the world’s top Islamic leaders. When I share about how I stopped living in fear of “radical Islamic extremists,” I’m speaking from experience. The only way through fear is to step toward whatever scares us most.
Q. To what would you attribute Americans’ softening on immigrants and refugees between 2016 and 2017?
A. If the change had happened over several years, a softer stance might be attributed to media coverage of babies drowning, ISIS beheadings or chemical attacks, but, in my estimation, that peaked in 2013–2015. To explain a push toward compassion in the past year, I think one theory towers over the others: Trump has a “liberalizing” effect on certain Americans. A more unifying president could have led the country toward conservative positions, but Trump’s bombast drives many away, even well-known conservative leaders. To some, being contra-Trump is a knee-jerk way to be “moral.” The political climate of late has also caused others to more closely examine their responsibilities to their neighbors.
Q. Why do you think evangelicals remain unlikely to believe America should have more open borders?
A. I’m not sure it is a moral imperative for America to open its borders; good people hold different views. However, the unassailable moral imperative of the Church is to welcome those who are on the run. The barrier for evangelicals is the way they map alongside conservative politics. Competing political visions are normal, but we should be more honest about when we are pursuing the kingdom of America or the Kingdom of God. Thankfully, these stats don’t tell the whole story: individuals and churches from all sides are helping organizations like Preemptive Love serve refugees. If you are more conservative, we give you ways to work at the headwaters of conflict on root problems so people don’t have to flee in the first place. If you’re more liberal, we provide a framework to welcome refugees in your own home while actively acknowledging terrorism. “Conservative” doesn’t mean not wanting to be helpful. “Liberal” doesn’t mean being soft on security.