With the midterm elections and a so-called “migrant caravan” putting renewed focus on immigration issues, one particular group has emerged as the biggest opponent of letting new immigrants into the country: white evangelicals.
That’s according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s ninth annual American Values Survey, which covered topics such as immigration and racial diversity and asked whether they constitute “threats” to American values.
The white evangelicals surveyed reacted strongly to data forecasts that show the U.S. will become a minority white nation by 2045. When asked to characterize this ethnic and racial “realignment,” 54 percent of white evangelicals saw it as a negative – by far the highest out of any religious demographic group. Meanwhile, over 80 percent of Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants and 51 percent of white Catholics and Protestants saw it as a positive.
Immigrants: A Threat to American Values?
More than half of white evangelicals surveyed believe immigrants “threaten traditional American customs and values.” Interestingly, at least 47 percent of white Catholics and 48 percent white mainline Protestants agreed.
So that covers immigration in general, but what about refugees and asylum-seekers in particular?
Most religious Americans oppose any hypothetical ban on refugees entering the United States. But not white evangelicals – more than 50 percent said they would support such a law. These same evangelicals were least likely to oppose separating immigrant children from their families along the Southern border and most likely to support a “temporary travel ban for people from some majority-Muslim countries.”
Fear of “The Other”
The history of the United States is one of new immigrants coming here seeking promise and opportunity. So why is this phenomenon still viewed as such a threat?
Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies, set out to answer this question during a Brookings Institution panel discussion in Washington, D.C. “To understand white evangelicals here in the U.S., we really need to look beyond the hot-button traditional religious views of abortion and same-sex marriage,” she explained. “The real key to understanding them is through their anti-immigrant attitudes and fear of demographic change. It is really this potent mix of nativism and racial anxiety and white Christian nationalism that underlines many of the other policy attitudes that you see presented in this report.”
Would Jesus Welcome Immigrants?
Is it fair to single out white evangelicals for their views? After all, opponents of immigration can be found in all corners of American society. But the fact remains that striking numbers of religious Americans oppose immigration in one form or another — a view that critics translate to “a better life for me, but not for thee.”
Does that mindset square with biblical values?
Jesus spoke often of helping the poor, the needy, the disenfranchised. Religious groups that do support immigration commonly cite Leviticus 19:34, which says: “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Then again, the Bible is a versatile tool that can be wielded to to support a wide range of positions. As you might remember, earlier this year Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a passage from the Bible to defend separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.
What do you think? Can lessons from the Bible be selectively applied, or does being a follower of Christ require sticking by the teachings of Jesus no matter the circumstances?