Excerpt from The Next Evangelicalism on the topic of immigration

Posted: September 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

From The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 73-74.

One of the key political issues in the first decade of the 21st century is the issue of immigration.  In the 2008 Presidential race, the issue of immigration spurred passionate debate.  Harsh rhetoric and generalizations were used in the immigration debate, evoking inflammatory terminology that spoke to the racial identity of the United States.  The candidate considered the most evangelical was also the candidate that evoked the harshest rhetoric against immigration.  Immigration became a hot button political issue.

I was at a consultation in Washington D.C. exploring the need for comprehensive immigration reform.  One of the participants was an aide to a senator who was supportive of a compassionate immigration policy.  She stated that after the Senator had proposed the bill, their office began to receive thousands of bricks (either as a threat or to help build a wall at the Mexican border) – enough bricks for the mailroom attendant to make a barbeque grill in his backyard.  Incoming mail ran 400 to 1 opposing immigration reform, oftentimes proposing nearly draconian measures to stem the tide of immigration.

In 2004, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington wrote in Who Are We? that the U.S.’s racial identity needed to remain white, Anglo and Protestant.  Huntington is troubled by the changing demographics of American society.  “The ideologies of multiculturalism and diversity eroded the legitimacy of the remaining central elements of American identity, the cultural core and the American Creed. . . . American’s third major wave of immigration that began in the 1960’s brought to America people primarily from Latin America and Asia rather than Europe as the previous wave did.  The culture and values of their countries of origin often differ substantially from those prevalent in America.”[1] Huntington’s concern is that “the elimination of the racial and ethnic components of national identity and the challenges to its cultural and creedal components raise questions concerning the prospects for American identity.”[2] In other words, the more non-European immigrants come to the United States, the less American this nation becomes.

Huntington believes that more than an ideology or creed is needed in order to unify a nation.  “Globalization, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, immigration, subnationalism, and anti-nationalism has battered American consciousness.  Ethnic, racial, and gender identities came to the fore.  In contrast to their predecessors, many immigrants were ampersands, maintaining dual loyalties and dual citizenships. A massive Hispanic influx raised questions concerning America’s linguistic and cultural unity.”[3]

As the demographics of American culture began to change, the reaction from some academics and politicians was to support an American society rooted in white America.  Opponents of immigration reform (among whom are a significant number of evangelicals) are raising the question: “Who gets to define what America looks like in the twenty-first century?” “Should every effort be made to maintain a white majority that reflects the current Western European culture and ethos of American society?”

The unavoidable reality is that by the year 2050, projections point to a nation without an ethnic majority.  America will no longer be a Euro-centric, white nation. Furthermore, as previously stated, the non-white population among Christians is growing at a rate faster than the general population.  American Christianity will become non-white before the rest of American society.  Even now, most denominations are faced with the reality that unless they see growth among the ethnic minority population within their denomination, they will experience steady decline.

The question of immigration presents an interesting dilemma for majority-culture Christians. Immigrants and ethnic minorities are saving American Christianity.  Immigrants and ethnic minorities tend to be socially and morally conservative. (If the religious right were committed to overturning Roe v. Wade, there is an easy solution.  Give citizenship to the 12 million undocumented aliens, who are largely politically conservative and would turn the tide and momentum of the abortion debate).  Immigrant and ethnic minority churches are restoring spiritual vitality and fervor oftentimes missing in many white evangelical churches. Too often, the future of American evangelicalism is viewed as a battle over the heart and soul of middle-America (i.e. – white America), when the restoration of faith in American culture may actually depend on the ongoing growth of immigrant and ethnic minority Christian communities. So what is the response of the white evangelical community to the changing face of America? So far, it has been one of conspicuous silence on the issue of immigration. Many Christian leaders have been hesitant to support genuine immigration reform – possibly reflecting the fear of a non-white America and a non-white American Christianity.

Evangelicals claim Scripture as having primary authority in a believer’s life and conduct.  What then, is the Biblical response to the issue of immigration?  In my study of Scripture, I have yet to find a single passage which supports the right to bear arms. (I’m not arguing against the right to bear arms, I’m just saying I can’t find a biblical reference regarding the right to bear arms.) I have, however, found numerous references (close to 100) calling believers to care for the alien among them. Why is it then that I am more likely to find members of the National Rifle Association in a typical American evangelical church than I will find those who advocate for an immigration policy that shows compassion for the immigrant among us? How much of our view on immigration is driven by a political and social agenda rather than a biblical one?

[1] Samuel Huntington, Who Are We? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 18.

[2] Ibid.,19.

[3] Ibid., 4.


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