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Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Americans have finished casting their votes in the 2018 midterm elections. The outcomes of some races were still too close to call early in the morning on Wednesday, November 7, 2018, but two Congressional races had resulted in firsts for the United States. In Michigan’s 13th congressional district and Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, two Muslim women became the first female Muslims to win seats in the United States’ Congress.

Forty-two year old Rashida Tlaib had already made history once by becoming the first Muslim woman to win a seat in the Michigan Legislature in 2008. She is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and a native of Detroit. She ran on a platform that included a higher minimum wage, preventing cuts to welfare programs and refusing to grant large corporations tax relief. She was the only candidate from a major party to run in her district.

Ilhan Omar came to the United States at the age of 14. She and her family fled the civil war in Somalia and entered America as refugees.  She entered American politics when she began attending local caucuses for the Democratic Farmer Labor party with her grandfather. Omar had spoken in the past of wanting to use her experience as a refugee when talking about immigration. In the 2018 midterm elections, however, Omar focused on an extremely liberal platform which included a call for universal healthcare and free college.

Omar and Tlaib were not the only “firsts” to make it to Congress in the 2018 midterms, and they were far from the only women headed to Washington. A record number of women were elected in November 2018. Both Muslim women also gained seats previously held by a man. Tlaib’s seat was previously held by John Conyer, and Omar succeeded the first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, when he vacated his seat in order to run for the office of Minnesota’s attorney general. The full roster of who will be joining these Muslim women in Congress is not yet complete, but everyone involved will have their work cut out for them in a divided Congress.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Since the rise of Ronald Reagan, evangelical voters have been one of the powerhouses when it comes to political voting blocs. Their influence, however, might be on the decline as evangelicals begin to split along generational lines when it comes to key political issues. Young evangelicals are far more likely to hold liberal views on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion. They also tend to lean liberal when it comes to environmental issues and immigration. Older evangelicals, on the other hand, usually favor conservative stances on social issues.

The National Association of Evangelicals defines evangelicals as people who hold “the belief that lives need to be transformed through a ‘born-again’ experience and a life-long process of following Jesus, … the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts, … a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority … [and] a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.” Most evangelicals have conservative values which have long made evangelicals a voting bloc that helps Republican candidates at the ballot box, but evangelicals may lose some of that political influence if young people continue to turn away from religion or emphasize certain social issues over other social or economic issues. Gay marriage, for example, tends to be seen by young people as an extremely important social issue, and some young people will vote for a candidate based on their stance on gay marriage even if they do not like the candidate’s stance on other issues.

In addition to splits along generational lines, evangelicals are also beginning to face division along racial lines. In fact, some people feel that white evangelicals and black evangelicals should be evaluated as two completely different voting blocs. Others, however, argue that the reason evangelicals of different races vote differently has more to do with the social communities and families in which they are raised instead of some inherent difference in their experiences as evangelicals. Support for the latter theory can be found in the fact that political stances have become a form of and marker of identity in recent years. As such, voting in a different way than a person’s family or friends implies a serious change in identity instead of a change of opinion on certain issues. This may explain part of why so many people in recent years cling to a political party even if they disagree with certain policies. They are a Republican or Democrat instead of simply being a person who votes for the Republican or Democratic Party.

The decline of evangelicals voting power, of course, may simply be a false alarm. Young people across racial, religious, socio-economic and geographic lines tend to be far more liberal than those who are older. As such, there is every possibility that young, liberal evangelicals may grow up to become older, conservative evangelicals like their parents and grandparents. Even if they do not, it is likely that the “evangelical vote” will continue being a political powerhouse for years to come.

Most American adults self-identify as Christian, but devout Christians are aware that many of those self-identified Christians do not hold with traditional Christian beliefs or practices. In fact, most Americans hold at least one New Age belief.

According to a study by Pew Research, roughly 60 percent of Americans believe in astrology, psychics, reincarnation or the presence of spiritual energy in mountains or trees. This has often resulted in a blending of tradition. When New Age beliefs are combined with Christianity, things such as angel cards and angel readings result. Such practices have become lightning rods for controversy in various denominations especially with the rising number of Neopagans in America.

The growth of New Age beliefs appears to be linked to the ever increasing number of Americans who do not identify themselves with an orthodox religious group. Many of them instead state that they are spiritual or claim to believe in a higher power even though they do not practice a specific religion. That said, New Age beliefs are also being combined with orthodox religions by younger members of the faith.

The growth of New Age beliefs show clear demographic differences. Women, for example, are far more likely to hold New Age beliefs than men. In fact, roughly 70 percent of women hold at least one New Age belief compared to 55 percent of men. This should not necessarily be a surprise, however, as women are also more likely than men to subscribe to a religion in the first place.

Of the New Age beliefs, the most widely belief that spiritual energy can be located in physical things such as trees, mountains or crystals, and belief in psychics is a close second. Astrology is the least widely believed of the four beliefs. This suggests that there was a deliberate distinction made between New Age theories about reincarnation and Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh beliefs about reincarnation. Otherwise, the percentage of people who believe in reincarnation would likely be higher.

The rise of New Age beliefs is unlikely to be surprising to most people, but the sheer extent of them might be a bit of a shock. Everyone knows someone who believes in psychics. Most people had not done the math to realize exactly how widespread the belief has become. What this means for the Christian community is unclear, but it does show that those discussions about angel cards are not the minor issue that they first appeared to be.

Immigration has been a lightning rod for controversy since before Trump ever threw his hat in the ring for the Republican nomination, but the United States’ immigration system has been under increasing scrutiny during Trump’s administration. President Trump ran on a platform that emphasized safe borders and a crackdown on illegal immigration. As part of his focus on immigration policies, Trump recently announced that he wants to remove the practice of birthright citizenship.

Birthright citizenship dates back to the early years of the United States. When the young country was still growing and expanding rapidly, citizenship was unofficially based on a person being born in the United States or living in America for a certain period of time. This was made official when the 14th Amendment stated that descendants of slaves were to be considered full citizens of the United States by saying, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

The question of birthright citizenship has been debated since the 1990’s, but it has recently entered the spotlight due to the practice of illegal immigrants having what are called “anchor babies.” These infants are born to immigrant parents and then used as a foothold for securing parents’ and other family members’ eventual citizenship. The extent of the practice is uncertain, but in 2015, the so-called “birth tourism” industry was considered to be worth millions and millions of dollars in Los Angeles alone.

Trump’s call for an end to birthright citizenship would have been controversial already, but Trump has suggested that affording birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants is not supported by the Constitution. His comment has come under heavy attack, but Trump may technically be correct. The constitutionality of granting the children of illegal immigrants citizenship would largely depend on the interpretation of a specific phrase in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. The section of the amendment is commonly seen as affording citizenship for anyone born in America, but the inclusion of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction [of the United States]” raises questions about whether the amendment would also apply to illegal immigrants. The debate centers around whether illegal aliens are technically under the jurisdiction of the United States or remain under the jurisdiction of their home country. The case United States v. Wong Kim Ark has been used to argue in favor of birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, but the case is actually less clear cut than many people are aware.

At the time of the Wong Kim Ark case, it was illegal for Chinese nationals to immigrate to the United States due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The case questioned whether the child of two Chinese nationals who was born in the United States should be granted American citizenship. The Supreme Court voted in favor of granting the child citizenship in a 6-2 vote. That said, the Court stated that the child should be awarded citizenship because the parents had a permanent residence in the United States and were thus “subject to the jurisdiction” of America. This same argument does not apply to many illegal immigrants or those who engage in birth tourism. As such, there is debate whether they are covered by the 14th Amendment at all.

If birthright citizenship was removed from the books, America would actually be aligning itself with most of the world when it comes to citizenship rights. Only about 30 countries have unrestricted birthright citizenship which is what the United States currently practices. Most countries either have no birthright citizenship or restrictions on the practice, such as requiring at least one parent to already be a citizen of the country.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the issue of birthright citizenship has largely been approached as all or nothing when restrictions to the practice or reinterpreting the 14th Amendment might deal with the issue with fewer serious consequences or headaches. Interpreting the 14th Amendment to exclude children of illegal aliens from being eligible for birthright citizenship would address concerns about illegal immigrants or expectant mothers engaged in birth tourism taking advantage of the system. The same would be true of requiring one parent to be an American citizen such as is done in Australia.

Though the political extremes will continue to argue for an all or nothing approach to birthright citizenship, and frankly for citizenship in general, restrictions may be the best way to find a middle ground on a contentious issue in the political realm. It might find more pushback, however, in the theological realm.

Christians are hardly a single ideological bloc as has been clearly shown in recent years by denominations breaking apart and churches splitting over questions about social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and gender ideology. Ironically, the very faith that should make it easier for Christians to find common ground and compromise on such issues often leads to people digging in their heels and clinging stubbornly to a single rigid stance. Sadly, many Christians have taken this sort of stance on immigration. Many argue that open borders and illegal immigration hurt immigrants and migrants who are attempting to go through the process legally. Regulating things like birthright citizenship would allow the federal government to spend more time dealing with legal requests for citizenship rather than dealing with those who are not allowed to be in the country. Other Christians, however, claim that blocking illegal immigrants from entering the country is against Christian compassion. When it comes to the question of birthright citizenship, some Christians claim that ceasing birthright citizenship is a form of punishing children for the crimes of their parents. Others, however, have pointed out that the infant is not being punished. Nothing is being done to the child at all in contrast with the current situation that affords a child extra rights based on the fact that they happened to be born in a specific place.

The question of birthright citizenship is unlikely to be dealt with quickly or in such a way that everyone is happy with the outcome. That said, there is almost no chance of the issue fading back into obscurity. Pandora’s Box has been opened, and people are now aware that the idea of birthright citizenship could be removed, altered or regulated. That knowledge will not fade away until something has been done to deal with the overarching issue of immigration reform. Until then, this is likely to be an issue that continues to crop up. Hopefully, it will one day be a debate that leads to compromise and consensus instead of simply yet more controversy.