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America’s evangelicals rejecting refugees

23 July 20181 comment

Something funny is happening across America’s Bible-belt.

The leaders and lay people of the US’ evangelical Christian religions are divided over President Trump’s decision to slash the number refugees the nation accepts.

Every year since the passage of the US Refugee Act in 1980, the United States has resettled more refugees than the rest of the world combined.

But in the last year, that has changed. In 2017, the US resettled 33,000 refugees, about a third as many as in 2016 – and less than half of the 69,000 refugees resettled in other countries.

Many evangelical leaders across America have decried the move citing biblical texts that urge a responsibility for the care of refugees.

Indeed, 500 of them signed an open letter opposing the Trump administration’s dramatic reduction in refugee settlement and entry restrictions, which temporarily suspended refugee resettlement.

But according to US political scientist Brian Newman, the leader’s parishioners don’t agree with them.

Professor Newman, of Pepperdine University in California, has researched polling around the Trump administration’s approach to refugees.

“We might expect that evangelical leaders’ Bible-based arguments would lead rank-and-file evangelicals to welcome refugees. That’s not what’s happened. Instead, white evangelicals have supported President Trump’s closed-door policies wholeheartedly,” Prof Newman said.

He said that early in Trump’s presidency, amid marches and airport protests, 76 per cent of white evangelicals supported his initial entry ban and there has been little change since.

“Why are lay evangelicals broadly opposed to allowing refugees into the country, defying their leaders? My research shows their position flows from three sources: loyalty to Trump, ideological conservatism, and attention to conservative media,” Prof Newman said.

“Those factors have led evangelicals to support a policy that their leaders, religious identity, values and beliefs might otherwise lead them to oppose,” he said.

Prof Newman said media in the US played a significant role in shaping attitudes.

“White evangelical Republicans who strongly supported Trump, identified as politically conservative and regularly watched Fox News were especially opposed to bringing Syrian refugees onto US soil,” he said.

“Evangelical Republicans who regard Trump more favourably than the Republican average were 1.3 points more opposed to resettlement than their evangelical counterparts with less favourable views of Trump.

“Conservatism mattered less, but among Republican evangelicals, political conservatives favoured refugee resettlement by 0.4 points less than other evangelical Republicans. And evangelical Republicans who said they watched Fox News favoured bringing refugees to the United States by 0.8 points less than evangelical Republicans who didn’t watch Fox News,” Prof Newman said.

“A single poll can’t show that Fox News causes people to feel this way, since immigration hard-liners are probably more likely to watch the network. However, other research finds that watching Fox News does influence political attitudes. Presumably, Fox News at least reinforces attitudes toward refugees,” he said.

But Prof Newman said the differences in attitudes toward refugees based on religious attendance are small, compared with those based on support for Trump, conservatism and viewing of Fox News.

“When faced with a potential conflict between prominent evangelicals’ biblical pro-refugee arguments and Trump’s opposition, the vast majority of white evangelicals choose Trump,” he said.

White evangelicals have favoured Trump more and more as his presidency has continued, Prof Newman’s research concludes.

“It is difficult to imagine what would change evangelicals’ minds,” he said.


Laurie Nowell

Senior Journalist