Over this past weekend, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich equated bilingual education with learning “the language of living in a ghetto,” and said, “Citizenship requires passing a test on American history in English. If that’s true, then we do not have to create ballots in any language except English.” While the merits of bilingual education may be a topic of ongoing discussion, it is Gingrich’s apparent fear of a majority non-white America that reveals his jingoism. If the words of Congressman Tancredo and even the writings of Harvard Professor Sam Huntington are any indication, Gingrich’s attitude regarding America’s multi-ethnic future is not an isolated one. A central question and issue may be: Who gets to define what America looks like in the 21st century? Should every effort be made to maintain a white majority that reflects the current Western European culture and ethos of American society?
The unavoidable reality is that by the year 2050, projections point to a nation without an ethnic majority. In other words, the majority of Americans will be made up of current ethnic minorities. America will no longer be a Euro-centric, white nation. Furthermore, the trends seem to indicate that the non-white population among Christians is growing at a disproportional rate. In other words, American Christianity will become non-white before the rest of American society. Even now, most denominations are faced with the reality that unless they see growth among the ethnic minority population within their denomination, they will experience steady decline.
The problem of immigration presents an interesting dilemma for majority-culture Christians. Immigrants and ethnic minorities are saving American Christianity. Immigrants and ethnic minorities tend to be socially and morally conservative. Immigrant and ethnic minority churches are restoring spiritual vitality and fervor oftentimes missing in many white evangelical churches. Too often, the future of American evangelicalism is viewed as a battle over the heart and soul of middle-America (i.e. – white America), when the restoration of faith in American culture may actually depend on the ongoing growth of immigrant and ethnic minority Christian communities. So what is the response of the white evangelical community to the changing face of America? So far, it has been one of conspicuous silence on the issue of immigration. Many Christian leaders have been hesitant to support genuine immigration reform – maybe reflecting the fear of a non-white America and a non-white American Christianity.
As an evangelical Christian, I look towards scripture for my guidance. In my study of scripture, I have yet to find a single passage which supports the right to bear arms. (I’m not arguing against the right to bear arms, I’m just saying I can’t find a biblical reference regarding the right to bear arms). I have, however, found numerous references (50+ and still counting) calling believers to care for the alien among them. Why is it then that I am more likely to find members of the NRA in a typical American evangelical church than I will find those who advocate for an immigration policy that shows compassion for the immigrant among us? How much of our view on immigration is driven by a political and social agenda rather than a biblical one?
Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Assistant Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary and a member of the Sojourners/Call to Renewal Board.