White evangelical Protestants are the only faith group in the U.S. without majority support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, according to a Public Religion Research Institute report published on Feb. 3.
Between 2013 and 2021, white evangelical affirmation for a path to citizenship declined nine points to 47%. This is the largest decline among Christian groups, but they are not alone in waning support for such a policy.
There was a 13-point decline to 55% among non-Christian respondents, an eight-point drop to 54% among white Catholics, a four-point drop to 70% among Hispanic Catholics and a two-point decline to 59% among white mainline Protestants during this time.
Three faith groups defied this trend. There was a five-point increase to 75% in support for a path to citizenship among Black Protestants, a five-point rise to 69% among the unaffiliated and a two-point increase among other Christians to 65%.
“Among white Christian groups, white evangelical Protestants who attend religious services at least once a week have become less likely to support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in 2021 (45%) compared to 2013 (58%), while white mainline Protestants (62% in 2013; 66% in 2021) and white Catholics (60% in 2013; 57% in 2021) who attend religious services regularly have not shifted much in their support,” the report said.
Overall, 62% of all U.S. adults supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in 2021 — down one point from 2013.
In contrast to the decline in support for a citizenship path was an increase in respondents affirming that “immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.”
Overall, there was a 17-point increase to 61% among all U.S. adults who agree with this view from 2010 to 2021, and every faith group surveyed saw an increase in the number of respondents affirming this perspective.
White evangelical Protestants and white Catholics had the lowest rate of affirmation at 38% (up 12 points) and 49% (up 14 points), respectively, while Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants had the highest at 79% (up three points) and 76% (up 27 points), respectively.
When asked if “the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society,” only white Christians lacked majority affirmation of this view.
At 35%, white evangelicals were the least likely to agree (down three points from 2011), followed by white mainline Protestants (46%; down two points) and white Catholics (46%; down 10 points).
The unaffiliated were the most likely group to agree (74%; up nine points), followed by Black Protestants (69%; up 21 points), non-Christians (65%; unchanged) and Hispanic Catholics (61%; up one point).
The full PRRI report is available here. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.1%.
Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders for their reaction and response. Here is what they said.
“To reject the immigrant, to hate the immigrant, to oppress the immigrant is to reject, to hate, to oppress Jesus in the here and now, incarnated as the one who is hungry, thirsty, naked and an immigrant among us. What we do to the least of these, we do to him. Care for the immigrant is so crucial to the Christian faith that the call to care for them (along with widows and orphans) is the most repeated command of the Hebrew Bible,” said Miguel A. De La Torre, professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology.
“And yet, sadly, according to this latest PRRI poll, white evangelicals — through word, through action and through belief — continue to reject this very basic call of the biblical text, thus proving that the religiosity they practice has little to do with the call of the gospel,” he said. “They may claim to do much in the name of Jesus, but sadly on that day they will only hear that they were never known by the one they claim to follow.”
“As Christians, we are called to reflect God’s love for all human beings. There are clear messages in the Bible that instruct us to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves’ (Leviticus 19:18 and Luke 10:27),” said Nora O. Lozano, who has been involved in Christian theological education for more than 25 years and is executive director and co-founder of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute.
“Since the people in Jesus’ time seemed to not be very clear about who their neighbors were, Jesus proceeded to clarify this with the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). As he told the parable, Jesus surprised his audience by challenging them on the one hand to see as their neighbors some unexpected persons, and on the other hand to treat them with compassion,” she said. “As Christian leaders, we must talk about these 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. as our neighbors who need to be treated with love and compassion.”
“The Bible often measures one’s righteousness in relation to the treatment given to immigrants, strangers or some similar class. In texts about the year of Jubilee, the children of immigrants were to be granted control of land in its regular redistribution. When Jesus was asked to define neighbor, he portrayed an immigrant traveling through Israel as the hero of the story, offering healing and provision for an unknown man,” said Christopher B. Harbin, a former missionary in Mexico and Brazil who serves now as a provisional elder with the United Methodist Church in Wingate, North Carolina, and is the author of several books, including On Immigration: Surveying Biblical Teaching on Issues of Immigration.
“It seems that somehow we have ignored and distanced ourselves as Christians from these biblical teachings,” he said. “Without immigration, we would not have a Bible to read, as it is all about a people suffering hardship as outsiders, carried off into exile, returned to the land under outside control and then dispersed once more with nowhere to call home.”
“I believe that whether we view immigrants as assets or threats to our nation may be directly related to our own mental health and emotional wellbeing. Our insecurities lead us to feel anxious and threatened. When we feel on edge, with our mental and emotional state stretched to the breaking point, a natural reaction is to protect ourselves,” said Sue Smith, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving with Latino immigrants in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“There’s been a lot to challenge us in the last few years, particularly for white Americans and, for many Christians, church and church attendance provided a place where we felt safe, secure and accepted. The changing ways we do church and express our faith today has taken its toll on our mental and emotional health, and people feel threatened,” she said. “Ultimately, our personal feelings on immigrants and immigration may have nothing to do with facts, politics or a desire to care for others (or not). It’s driven by an unconscious desire to protect ourselves.”
“It’s disappointing, though sadly not surprising, to see so many white Christians oppose a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and hold more anti-immigrant views than other Americans. I think it is in part a reaction to real changes in their own communities and a fear of loss of privilege and political influence. Far too many react first from their partisan affiliation or based on what they see on cable news and in their social media feed. Political manipulation of this sentiment is certainly the cause of the recent increase,” said Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest and director of advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“If more Christians began instead by consulting scripture and acknowledging the clear commands to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger, and if they took the time to meet more immigrants, learn their stories and why they flee their home countries, these views might change,” he said. “Fundamentally, it is an unfortunate combination of a lack of empathy, stemming from an inability to identify with those fleeing such dire circumstances, and a fear of a changing country that drives this sentiment. Global migration is a humanitarian crisis and policy solutions are certainly complex, but Christians should not feel more loyalty to party or country than sympathy for the suffering neighbors on their doorstep.”