Why are White Evangelicals Ambivalent About Refugees and Migrants?


Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton tackles this issue.  She wonders why so many evangelical leaders reject anti-immigration rhetoric and so many of their followers embrace it.

Here is a taste:

From his dismissal of “shithole countries” to his attempts to institute a “Muslim travel ban,” from his incendiary rhetoric about Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals, to his latest attempts to prevent the Honduran migrants to seeking asylum, Trump’s approach to borders has been one of nativism and insularity by protecting (his idea of white) America at the expense of everyone else. And, by and large, white evangelicals on the ground have followed suit — even when some in evangelical leadership is advocating for more nuanced policy positions.

The reasons for this discrepancy are complicated. They include a white evangelical population that gets its moral sense as much from conservative media as it does from scripture. There’s also a more general conflation of white evangelicalism with the GOP party agenda, which has been intensifying since the days of the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

As Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy and policy for World Relief, the humanitarian wing of the National Association for Evangelicals, told Vox, white evangelicals’ views on immigration are more likely to be shaped “not from their local church or their pastor, but actually from the news media. … This has become an issue of the church being discipled by the media more than the Bible or the local pastor in terms of their views on immigration.”

Ed Stetzer, a Christian author and commentator who leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, agreed. “White evangelicals are more shaped on this issue by Republican views,” he told Vox. “They’re being discipled by their cable news network of choice and by their social media feeds.” He pointed out that, while white evangelicals are more likely than other religious voting blocs to express conservative views on immigration, they don’t necessarily do so at greater rates than nonwhite evangelical Republicans.

In other words, the political views of white evangelicals may say far more about their party affiliation than it does about their theological identity. In the Trump era, in particular, white evangelical Christianity and nativist political isolation have become particularly intertwined. Trump, his administration, and its allies have used the language of Christian nationalism to shore up their political base.

Read the entire piece here.  Sadly, it appears that Fox News-style fear-mongering easily sways many white evangelicals.  Or at least this is what I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

10 thoughts on “Why are White Evangelicals Ambivalent About Refugees and Migrants?

  1. Good morning, Rick:
    I apologize for not getting back to you last night. Circumstances overcame me.

    As far as links to DEM figures advocating open borders, the average politician is the party is generally going to “weasel-word” a policy position. In other words, most of them will talk all around the subject without actually saying anything. For example, the current DEM celebrity, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was interviewed on CNN and made the statement that our border officials must “….make people [illigal immigrants] secure in passage.” She prefaced that with a standard throwaway line that she was for national borders or words to that effect. Yes, that one is like saying that we are all for “truth, justice and the American way,”. Of course, the part of her statement about being secure in passage is code language for, “let them pass.” It reminded me of the opposite slogan the Spanish Republic used during the civil war, “No passaran.”
    Next I would invite your attention to the official DEM website http://www.DEMOCRATS.org. When dealing with the subject, the official statement which advocates rules and law which, “prioritizes [border enforcement] so we are targeting criminals.” In other words, if you are not in a criminal gang, you are not in the radar screen. The whole thing is a proverbial dog whistle for other illegals that we won’t pay a lot of attention to you if you don’t appear to be in a criminal gang. You and I have been around long enough to understand implicit messaging, Rick. It goes hand in hand with the sanctuary city movement. If someone is not an obvious criminal and can make it to a sanctuary city, he/she is home free.
    I can get you more explicit statements from DEM adjunct groups, Rick. Also Hillary gave a private speech prior to her official declaration of presidentiall candidacy. She essentially advocated open borders. After she announced her official run, the substance of her speech leaked out. “Oh no, I was misunderstood.” Or words to that effect. How many times did she have to do that on several subjects? I can get you the specifics if you’d like.


  2. Well, Rick, you did say that certain “enlightened” evangelicals like Moore, Stetser, and Anderson should tell evangelicals to turn off conservative news sources. What alternative would that leave other than liberal sources? That is the way things essentially were in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. I suppose people could watch C-Spann which actually tries to be balanced, but not everyone has cable television.
    So I am not sure if you really want a state of affairs which is effectively different than the 1950s. Where should Christians seek alternative information?


  3. Rick,
    I have an appointment at 2 and will not be back until later this evening. I will get you evidence tonight. But is that really necessary? How many DEM-controlled cities have declared themselves to be sanctuaries for illegals? The mayor of Oakland even tipped off the illegal folks about an impending ICE raid. Isn’t the entire state of CA even a defacto sanctuary state? Obviously, these Democrat leaders know that word gets back across the border that illegals are home free if they can reach certain destinations. You may not see that as unlimited immigration, Rick, but I can tell you that the caravans and other people do. But let’s not pick on the Mexicans and Central Americans. Are you aware of the illegal Chinese immigrants coming over the Canadian border? They, like other illegals, know that reaching certain DEM-controlled areas is tantamount to being admitted to the U.S. I hardly need to furnish you a link where a Democrat politician has moved to put a plank in the party platform calling for abolition of national borders. That would scare too many Americans; it is much easier to simply let it occur and to encourage it indirectly.


  4. Well, John, are you sure that Rick also shouldn’t be furnishing an answer to this question? After all, he implied that Christians are overly influenced by Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, etc.

    With that being said you have asked me a fair question. You, I, and possibly a small minority of Americans have the training and the time to examine a wide variety of media sources. It is an integral part of your profession and I am retired with a measure of discretionary time on my hands. Furthermore, my own schooling and life experiences have been helpful in preparing me to understand various viewpoints. Most people, however, have jobs which do not require schooling in media analysis. They go to work for at least eight hours per day, pick their children up from school or extracurricular activities, maintain their houses, go shopping, etc. Life’s treadmill does allow limited time for news analysis but not the amount you and I have. You probably know that millennials and other younger folks are not even print-oriented. They tend to get their limited news input from a handful of websites. Most Americans are not in the academy where liberal arts expertise is required.

    In the past people probably trusted news sources more than they do now, but today’s lessened trust does not translate into professional analysis. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that Americans are stupid. It is just that the mainstream media personalities are skilled, trained, and resourceful manipulators of opinion. That is all they do. The last time I was in Las Vegas I would have sworn that David Copperfield actually did some of those things. He is good at his job; so is the media.


  5. I like how you read my comment and then jumped to a crazy conclusion that I want modern media to go back to 1975. And then asked me if I agree with your bizarro leap.


  6. James: You make it sound like we are at the mercy of the media–whether it be liberal or conservative. What happened to reading media critically instead of merely consuming it.


  7. Rick,
    None of us live in a vacuum. Even if someone spends half of his time listening to conservative outlets, the overall tenor of the media, which none of us can avoid, is still liberal and globalist. At least people have alternatives to the mainstream media today. Would you have us return to the old days with three television networks all providing essentially the same stories while daily newspapers furnished us only a rehash of wire service reports?


  8. It is telling that Russell Moore and a senior employee of the NAE have views which are at variance with the rank and file within their respective churches. This same pattern was evident in the once-powerful Mainline Protestant churches and eventually lead to their apostasy. Bishops, denominational seminary professors, and other senior ecclesiastical authorities took liberal theological and social positions which within two generations or so have lead to the numerical collapse of these same national church bodies. Will evangelicalism suffer the same fate?

    Personally, I don’t think that fundamental/evangelical Christians are hard-hearted people, and this whole charge of white nationalism is typical of the dishonest polemics of liberals in the press. From what I can see, conservative Christians have been in strong support of the Pakistani Christian woman presently being targeted for her faith by Muslims. It isn’t hard to see a difference between genuine religious or political persecution on one hand and the simple desire for basic economic betterment on the other. Most of the Central Americans seeking entry fall in the second category.

    Let me give my own opinion here, and I do not claim to speak for all conservative Christians. I am opposed to unbridled immigration simply because the Democrats support it. Their goal is to create a brand new dependent class of voters which will be beholding to them. It is the old ward healer concept applied on a national level. I don’t think there is any great well of compassion in the hearts of Democrat operatives; in fact, most Republicans I know are far more loving toward others. The whole thing is simply a mechanism to obtain more political power. As that power grows the anti-Christian, morally-tainted, and radical secular interests of the Democrat party can be advanced. This will only have negative consequences for Christians and also traditionalists within Judaism, Islam, and other monotheistic faiths.


  9. “White evangelicals are more shaped on this issue by Republican views,” [Ed Stetzer] told Vox. “They’re being discipled by their cable news network of choice and by their social media feeds.”

    I’ve never agreed with Stetzer more. Wouldn’t it make sense for a big-time evangelical leader like Stetzer or Leith Anderson or Beth Moore to call on Christians to turn off specific media outlets like Fox, Breitbart, InfoWars, Rush Limbaugh, etc.? Actually naming names? It seems fairly obvious that highly negative conservative media is warping Christianity, so why not call on the faithful to turn their backs on the worst offenders?


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