While Donald Trump continues to rally conservative evangelicals to his anti-immigrant campaign, new research from a conservative evangelical organization finds fewer Christians are buying what Trump is selling.
As recently as a Sept. 17 rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump vocalized his signature hatred for immigrants, calling them “invaders” and warning, “I don’t know if we’ve had a more radicalized or dangerous time in our country.”
Trump intoned: “We no longer have a border. Our country is being invaded. It’s an invasion by millions of illegal aliens. The economy is crashing. Your 401(k) is collapsing. Shooting, stabbings, rapes, carjackings are skyrocketing.”
Such fear of invading immigrants and their fictitious link to increased crime have been a hallmark of Trump’s political career — epitomized by his cruel tactics toward immigrants when president — and has been part of his appeal to a political base largely shaped by conservative religious beliefs.
Standing against that tide — often awkwardly — have been several evangelical nonprofits that for decades have been advocates for immigrants and refugees as a religious conviction. These include World Relief and now the network called the Evangelical Immigration Table, both of whom sponsored the new research done by Lifeway Research.
“This study underscores what World Relief offices around the country have found in their interactions with the thousands of local churches and tens of thousands of volunteers: Large majorities of evangelical Christians recognize that their faith compels them to care sacrificially for refugees and other immigrants, and they want to see governmental policies that reflect those concerns as well,” said World Relief President Myal Greene.
In the new national survey, evangelicals were asked to characterize their perspectives on immigrants. The top three responses were to view the arrival of immigrants to their communities as “an opportunity to show them love,” “an opportunity to introduce them to Jesus Christ,” and “an improvement to America’s cultural diversity.”
Hardly the doom and gloom preached by Trump.
These responses show a marked change in evangelical attitudes since the year before Trump was elected president. In 2015, the top evangelical response was to describe the arrival of immigrants as “a drain on economic resources.”
Lifeway Research summarized: “The share of evangelicals who selected that response has dropped by double digits since 2015.”
And while Republican legislators have blocked every attempt at meaningful immigration reform for decades, they are now out of step with the most common evangelical perspective, Lifeway said.
“The study also found that at least 78% of evangelicals support legislation guided by each of six principles that have guided the Evangelical Immigration Table’s advocacy for more than a decade, including protecting the unity of the immediate family, ensuring secure national borders and establishing a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally who meet certain requirements,” a news release said. “Moreover, 70% now affirm that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to refugees and 69% also believe Christians have a moral responsibility to care sacrificially for refugees and other foreigners.”
The study found evangelicals are eager to see reforms to immigration laws. Four out of five said they would support Republicans and Democrats working together on reforms to strengthen border security, create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and provide a reliable number of screened, legal farmworkers.
And arguing against Trump’s approach, 65% said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported these positions, while only 7% of evangelicals said support for these positions would make them less likely to vote for a candidate.
Nearly three-fourth (71%) of evangelicals said it is “important” or “very important” that Congress pass new immigration legislation in 2022.
And in a boon to preachers who have dared speak a word of biblical witness about welcoming the stranger, this good news: 64% of self-identified evangelicals now say they are very familiar with what the Bible has to say about how immigrants should be treated, compared to 53% in 2015.
Recent research by other polling firms also has found a majority of Americans want to do something immediately to address immigration reform.
“This encouraging research confirms overwhelmingly that evangelicals have a significant interest in protecting the dignity and well-being of refugees and other immigrants, with particularly high levels of support from those between the ages of 18 and 24,” said Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, a partner with the Evangelical Immigration Table. “As Christians who believe a biblical worldview should undergird how we approach any complex policy issue, we were pleased to see a significant increase in the share of self-identified evangelicals who cite the Bible as the primary influence on their views on immigration.”
Hoogstra said she hopes the work of the Evangelical Immigration Table “will continue to help Christians think biblically about these immigration issues and, more importantly, about immigrants themselves as people made in God’s image.”
Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, agreed.
“I’m encouraged by this evidence that more evangelical Christians are hearing biblical messages on immigration, and that support for the biblically rooted policies we have long advocated continues to grow,” he said. “Fully 85% of Latino evangelicals and 78% of evangelicals overall support reforms that would combine an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with improvements to border security. Congress should listen and act now.”