The Common Good

Are Christians More Compassionate Towards Immigrants?

I am heartened by a new analysis of data from a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, which indicates that people who go to church more often have more compassionate immigration views. Benjamin Knoll, writing in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, observes that support for either guest worker or eventual legalization legislation (versus immediate deportation) increases by 7.3 percent as church participation moves from never attending church to attending more than once per week. Such a percentage is comparable to the influence that age (10.1 percent) or education (6.1 percent) has on one's immigration opinions. Perhaps even more surprising is that self-professed churchgoers are overwhelmingly from the same Republican Party that has often voiced the most vehement opposition to immigration reform. What accounts for this divergence from the GOP platform?

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Knoll himself believes that churchgoers are listening to their denominational leaders, who extensively support more amenable immigrant legislation. Editorialist Jeffrey Weiss adds that perhaps these individuals are heeding the multiple calls of the Bible to welcome the stranger (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 24:17-22, Hebrews 13:2, among others). I would like to suggest another possibility: Maybe Christians from all political backgrounds are finally learning to trust God and to overcome the fear that has repeatedly arisen in our country's history as new waves of immigrants have landed on American soil.

Surely the 19th-century political cartoons below seem ludicrous to us today, as we now enjoy the good fruits of living among our neighbors of Irish and Italian descent (click the image for a larger view):

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Fear has not only kept immigrants in the shadows, but it has inhibited American citizens from approaching our neighbors of a different culture and language. I encourage believers who secretly express more compassionate views to claim boldness and live their faith publicly. Visit our new Web site, www.faithandimmigration.org, for resources on how to begin honest dialogue regarding a Christian vision for immigration reform. Only through honesty with ourselves and our current social reality can we pursue solutions that both protect our country from real dangers and welcome strangers who seek the same God-given dignity that we as citizens seek.

Melanie Weldon-Soiset is a summer associate at Sojourners.

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