Religious voices and opinions vary on immigration

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Like many of the other religious voices here in the U.S., our Catholic bishops have affirmed their support for migrants and refugees. Yet like many of the other religious community’s adherents, we Catholics are split on our views as to whether they are perceived as an asset or burden.

With many religious leaders admonishing their flocks to be more welcoming and tolerant of immigrants both legal and illegal, most members of said religious bodies think there are too many immigrants in the country. Statistically, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, members of faith communities do not always share their religious leaders’ positive view of championing the cause of migrants and refugees.

When polled, Catholics, mainline Protestants, Born Again Protestants and Jews answer there are too many immigrants in the U.S. This divide between the views of religious leaders and members promises to make the unfolding debate over immigration in the upcoming election all the more contentious. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a statement last month that “We can and must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence, persecution and acute poverty. All people, regardless of their country of origin or legal status, are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.”

Some leaders in the Jewish community are asking whether Jews who have traditionally come to the aid of immigrants are beginning to show less support. A number of Jewish national agencies, including the leadership of all four major branches of Judaism, have publically supported immigration reform and believe that we should offer undocumented immigrants “a path to citizenship.”

“It’s a reminder that Jews are part of America and are influenced by some of the same currents that influence other Americans,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

“What we have found is a gigantic gulf between the pulpit and the pew and this is true of every religion in America, including Jews,” said Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Despite the statements made by their religious leaders, too many Christians are viewing immigrants as a threat to American values and see the country’s growing racial diversity in negative terms. Sadly, when asked to choose between enforcement that would cause undocumented immigrants to return to their countries of origin or a conditional pathway to citizenship, too many members of religious communities choose enforced return.

Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, and Galen Caley, a vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, issued a joint statement on immigration that read in part, “People fleeing for their lives are not to be used as political props. Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion. As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled.”

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, joined in an ecumenical and interreligious joint statement, which read in part, “Children coming to our nation for safety and protection are dying at our southern border while in U.S. detention. As U.S. religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, we are united in our concern for the well-being of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives. We urge the Administration to maintain its commitment to international law and defend human rights by implementing safeguards to ensure the safety and health of all of those seeking protection in our land, especially those children who fall under our care.”

Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, said, “Deeply embedded in the Christian faith, indeed deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition, which is the mother of the Christian faith, and deeply embedded in the faith and traditions and values of many of the world’s great religions, is a profound conviction in a sure and certain value and virtue that care for the stranger, the alien, the visitor, is a sacred duty, a sacred vow.”