immigration? no. torture? yes. christian? for sure.

This morning I finished the very excellent book by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. I’ll post a more thorough review later, but the following paragraph in the second to last chapter caught my eye and is worth sharing here.

Indeed, there does seem to be a disconnect between the pulpit and the pews on the immigration question: while many prominent evangelicals have endorsed a more generous immigration policy, and very few have vocally opposed such a policy, an April 2006 study found that 63 percent of white evangelicals see immigrants as a threat to U.S. customs and values, and 64 percent consider immigrants a burden on society– higher percentages than any other group surveyed, whether religious or secular.

The study they reference, “Attitudes Toward Immigration: In the Pulpit and the Pew”, comes from the Pew Research Center.  Here are two summary tables from the study that fill in some of the details.  Click the image for a larger view.

attitudes-toward-immigration-in-the-pulpit-and-the-pewattitudes-toward-immigration-in-the-pulpit-and-the-pew_2What do you make of these numbers?  I’m curious how those of us who fall within the “white evangelical protestant” category might explain our pessimistic view of recent immigrants.  This study reminds me of another recent Pew study regarding how religion impacts a person’s view of torture.  This study found that white evangelicals more than any other group thought the use of torture could be justified.

What is it about us white evangelical folk that leads to such views?  In my more cynical moments I think we have been spiritually formed less by the Bible, Christian tradition, and the Holy Spirit than by a certain political ideology.

The Pew immigration study does conclude with one sign of life.  “[W]ithin each of the three largest religious groups in the U.S., the most religiously committed Americans tend to hold views that are more favorable toward immigrants.”  It appears that those most closely associated with their faith tradition are more likely to form beliefs and perspectives that counter the prevailing opinion.  The faith of these folks actually appears to make a difference in how they think and act.  Now there’s a novel thought!

7 thoughts on “immigration? no. torture? yes. christian? for sure.

  1. Just to be candid and honest with you–some of the most fear filled and offensive comments I have heard on immigration have come from both the White and Black Evangelical circles I am in. I have heard it from both pulpits as well. Of course the majority in this nation as well as the power -holders are whites so that plays out differently. And the fear is great for both –but for completely different reasons. Of which I do not have the time to get into 🙂

    Funny thing is…lots of people who love me have said very offensive things about my community and in front of me thinking it is not personal. It has been hard to be in a predominantly suburban evangelical faith experience and hold vastly different personal and political views on this issue. Esp as the child of two immigrants. 🙂

  2. We must work to reclaim a broader, more complete understanding of the word “immigrant.” These days, the term is mostly used in the political context of left vs. right debate with qualifiers like “illegal” or “undocumented.”

    While I’m a strong supporter of the immigration reform in the public policy sense, I think we are mistaken if we focus our energies solely on the political aspect of immigration.

    Instead, we must create a culture that uses the word “immigrant” in more inclusive, commonplace ways. Let’s talk about the immigration stories of our families, friends, pastors and neighbors- people we know personally. Let’s share our stories, traditions, music and recipes.

    Let’s include the full global scope of where American immigrants come from, not just a few select races and places that are easy to label.

    1. Interesting thought Dan. I’m curious how you see this more holistic view of immigration (one that seems to represent the reality of our country) would shift the current debate?

      1. If prominent evangelical voices like Chuck Colson can teach a generation of churchgoers to understand convicted prisoners as a vulnerable population worthy of dignity and respect based on the teachings of Jesus, I would imagine the same shift is possible with immigration.

        It’s much easier to scapegoat and stigmatize a certain group when there’s no (known) personal connection. It’s easy to criticize public schools until you realize your neighbor has been a 2nd grade teacher for 25 years. It’s easy to bash the military until you realize your friend’s husband is a well-respected officer.

        Good things happen once we recognize how aspects of “us” are not altogether different from “them.” I’m hopeful for a day when immigration reform is not a polarizing culture war issue driven by angry voices on the extremes, but rather a legitimate policy concern (like prison reform) aimed at fixing a broken system with an unsustainable status quo.

  3. If these statistics are true they depict a sad reality. However my immediate reaction was one of doubt about the reliability of the study. My bet is that the people participating in this study were asked about their feelings toward illegal immigrants and then Pew apparently reported their findings under the heading of “Attitudes toward Immigration.” Like it or not, illegal-immigration and legal immigration are not the same thing. One respects our laws, borders, and culture, while the other stomps on them. In my city the everyday impact of illegal immigration is very real – hit and run accidents, health and human services stretched beyond their budgets, students in schools with no chance to succeed because of their language barriers, and tension between immigrants who have come to our country to improve life for their families and illegal immigrants who are here for a season to make money and then disappear until next year (tell me, in this reality, who is contributing to our community and who is stealing from it?). There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about illegal immigration, but raising those concerns does not make someone anti-immigration. I doubt the legitimacy of this study’s results, as they seem to have asked one question and then framed it in a way that makes the responses irrelevant.

  4. Steve,

    The Pew Research Center is one of the most reputable and trusted surveyors around. The questions were framed exactly the way they appear in the graphics above:

    “The growing number of newcomers from other countries…” (fill in the blank with one of 3 choices)


    “Immigrants today…” (fill in the blank with one of 3 choices)

    The questions refer to “immigrants” and “newcomers from other countries” in very general terms, not specifying which country they came from, whether they have green cards or not, how many kids they have or any other demographic info. The questions are purposefully simple and vague to investigate feelings and attitudes that come to mind when the subject of immigration is raised (legal or illegal).

    Interestingly enough, the study seems to indicate that white evangelical Protestants were the most likely of the religious affiliations surveyed to think of “illegal” immigrants when asked a broader question about immigration in general.

    My question is: Why is this the case? What is it about being an evangelical that causes us to immediately narrow the focus to “illegal” newcomers when asked about the broader subject of immigration in general?

  5. Dan,

    Thanks for your comments. If this is the case, then as I said, it is a sad reality. Because of my wife’s line of work, I am fortunate to know several new immigrants and they are some of the most hardworking, faith-filled people I know and most have a very real interest in adding to our communities, faith or otherwise. However I am also exposed to the realities of illegal immigration and the very real problems that it creates, for both legal citizens and for the illegal immigrants themselves. There is no doubt a need to reconsider immigration laws in this country and our politicians are really doing a disservice to all of us by largely ignoring the issue.

    My guess is that “white evangelicals” are thinking first of illegal immigrants because of their political leanings and their lack of contact with new immigrants; it’s no secret that many live in religious cul-de-sacs within their denomination of choice and do little in the way of reaching out and/ or living up to their evangelical roots. Although I would also echo the comments by Drita, it’s not just white evangelicals that have an alleged problem with new ethnic minority groups (which speaks to the level of division established in this nation as a result of the politics of the left and the right). This isn’t anything new, churches are historically fairly racially segregated communities; even the so-called Emergent church, from my experience, is very racially segregated.

    Immigration is, from my point of view, a welcomed and beneficial aspect of our nation’s history and it should be celebrated by all Christians. I don’t know any possible solution to this apparent narrow-mindednessother than the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s clear that the total depravity of man runs across all national boundaries and ethnic divisions.

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