What Evangelicals Want (For Now)

After attending my first Quaker meeting in North Carolina 25 years ago, someone approached me. “You know,” he said with a hushed voice, “we’re not going to invite you back.” It wasn’t rude, the message was simply, “Cool if you return, cool if you don’t.”

Evangelicals are the opposite, their whole raison d’être is to persuade others to believe and behave like them. So when it comes to immigration, what do they want non-believers, Quakers, more social justice minded Christians, and the huddled masses to believe?

In “Why Rank-And-File Evangelicals Aren’t Likely To Turn On Trump Over Family Separation”, fivethirtyeight.com explains that for now they want everyone to just “. . . obey the the law and defer to the president’s authority.”

“Robert Jeffress, the pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist Church and a strong Trump supporter, told FiveThirtyEight that the separation of children from their parents was ‘disturbing’ but quickly added that Trump has the “God-given responsibility” to secure the border in the way he deems appropriate and punish people breaking the law, even if it appears harsh.”

When the national political pendulum inevitably swings, and a newly elected liberal president promotes more progressive immigration policies possibly including amnesty, don’t expect Robert Jeffress to wax philosophic about deferring to the president’s “God-given responsibility”.

Jeffress isn’t saying Trump is advocating exactly what evangelicals think Jesus might if he were advising on immigration policy today. In fact, I don’t think he’s referencing Jesus’s interactions with the poor and dispossessed at all. He’s saying everyone should respect the authority of the president because us evangelicals share his views on immigrants.

What are those views?

“. . . polling on white evangelical Protestants has shown that they’re more likely than any other religious group to support hardline immigration policies and to have negative views of immigrants overall. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of white evangelical Protestants are in favor of expanding the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.”

Does crossing the border illegally give evangelicals cart blanche for thinking of immigrants negatively? How does that justify their “hardline immigration policies” given Jesus’s preference for the poor, the downtrodden, the illegal? Evangelicals, what’s the biblical basis for your viewing immigrants so negatively?

“These findings line up with results from other surveys too, like a 2017 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute that found that white evangelical Protestants were the only religious group in which a majority (57 percent) said they’re bothered when they encounter immigrants who don’t speak English. They were also the likeliest to say that they have little or nothing in common with immigrants.”

I wonder if Jesus was bothered by people who spoke different languages? I wonder if he felt like he had little or nothing in common with those crossing borders. Also, I wonder how many evangelicals really know any immigrants on a personal level. My guess is, for the vast majority, immigrants are abstractions largely created by conservative news outlets that play on their default fear of the unfamiliar. Do evangelicals have more than sporadic, cursory, largely economic interactions with immigrants?

I’m lucky to be married to someone who teaches numerous immigrants English. A few have become family friends. The one distinguishing characteristic among all of them is their incredible work ethic. I find that, coupled with their desire to improve their families’ lives, tremendously inspiring.

“Daniel Cox, the research director at PRRI, said these findings help explain why evangelicals aren’t likely to abandon Trump over the child separation crisis, even if they’re troubled by it. ”More than other groups, white evangelical Protestants seem to perceive immigrants as a threat to American society,’ he said. ‘So even if they don’t like this particular policy, they’re on board with Trump’s approach to immigration in general, and that makes it likelier that they’ll see this as a tactical misstep rather than a breaking point.'”

How will evangelicals’ “hardline immigration policies” impact their efforts to fulfill their destiny by continuously adding to their fold? They must hope to convince potential converts that immigrants are a detriment to our nation’s well-being. And to ignore our nation’s history. And to fear cultural differences. And to defer to this President’s authority (but probably not the next).

Good luck with that. Thomson-DeVeaux concludes, “Hardline immigrant policies won’t necessarily work forever.”

“Past PRRI polling has shown that younger white evangelicals are much likelier than older white evangelicals to believe that immigrants strengthen the country or to agree that immigrants are the victims of discrimination, which may reduce their support for restrictionist immigration policies in the long term.”

When it comes to evangelicalism, the future can’t come quick enough.

2 thoughts on “What Evangelicals Want (For Now)

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