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Memo From Mexico | Hispanic Evangelicals Flunking National Question?
[See also Immigration: An Evangelical Approach By Bill Barnwell; and 'Open Heart' Methodists—Empty-Headed Immigration Activists By James Antle]
More and more Hispanics in the U.S. are converting to Evangelical Protestantism.
Some, notably software magnate and political entrepreneur Ron Unz, interpret this as a sign that they are assimilating. In his article "California and the End of White America" (Commentary, November 1999), Unz presented this upbeat picture:
"Latin American immigrants have demonstrated much the same social conservatism and working-class values as Italians or Slavs. (One remarkable sign of their assimilationism is the high rate of conversion to evangelical Protestantism among Latin American immigrants.)"
Sounds great. But there are several problems with Unz' "Hispanic Evangelicalism = American Assimilation" thesis.
In the first place, Evangelical Protestantism is now firmly rooted in Latin America, and growing. (And in Latin America, most Protestants are Evangelical Protestants.) In Mexico, 7% of the population is Protestant, and in some Latin American countries it's even higher.
And Protestantism does not necessarily go hand in hand with pro-Americanism. The most anti-American Mexican I've ever met personally was a Protestant (not from my congregation, I hasten to add). [Vdare.com Note: There's also the anti-American Liberal Protestant Riverside Church in New York, and the anti-American Religious Left]
Furthermore, Latin American Protestants, though conservative on moral issues, tend to be more liberal on economic issues.
In the U.S., are Hispanic Evangelicals "assimilating"?
Sometimes, but not necessarily. Remember the big pro-illegal marches last spring? Well, some of those marchers were Evangelicals. Obviously, they don't agree with those of us who want immigration reduced and our borders controlled.
In fact, some Evangelical Hispanic pastors are really outspoken on the matter.
For example, Alejandro Camacho is a Baptist pastor in Texas who provides legal help to illegal aliens. (Although not actually a lawyer, he's passed an immigration accreditation course.) Camacho complains that
"It is just ridiculous how the laws have separated our families and our congregations…. ." "Immigration [law] as it is, it destroys, it destroys. It's very inhuman." [Catholics, mainliners, Jews, evangelicals unite to support immigration reform Associated Baptist Press, Robert Marus, March 30th, 2006]
In other words, Camacho does not recognize the legitimacy and sovereignty of the nation-state of which he is, technically, a member.
Probably the most high-profile Evangelical Hispanic activist working the immigration issue is Samuel Rodriguez, founder and leader of the the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC). [Send them mail] Rodriguez states bluntly that "Immigration puts us at odds with our white evangelical brothers".
Rodriguez, despite the fact that he is of Puerto Rican extraction and thus unaffected by immigration law, sees this as a pan-Hispanic issue. (So much for assimilation.) And he's ready to play hardball.
In April of 2006, 50 Evangelical leaders and groups, both white and Hispanic, signed a joint letter calling for an amnesty. However, the biggest and most influential Evangelical organizations didn't participate. And that really bothered Rodriguez, who told the Washington Post that
"This is the watershed movement – it's the moment where either we really forge relationships with the white evangelical church that will last for decades, or there is a possibility of a definitive schism here. There will be church ramifications to this, and there will be political ramifications." [Letter on immigration deepens split among evangelicals, By Alan Cooperman April 5th, 2006]
Rodriguez was very insistent in questioning evangelicals who didn't sign onto the amnesty plan:
"We need to know from white evangelical leaders why they did not support comprehensive immigration reform, why they came down in favor exclusively of enforcement, without any mention of the compassionate side, without any mention of Christian moral imperatives."
Notice how Rodriguez dogmatically presents his promotion of amnesty as a "Christian moral imperative". Needless to say, though he speaks of compassion, he fails to mention both Americans and Mexicans who are harmed by mass immigration.
Instead, Rodriguez follows up with a blatant threat:
"So down the road, when the white evangelical community calls us and says 'We want to partner with you on marriage, we want to partner with you on family issues,' my first question will be: 'Where were you when 12 million of our brothers and sisters were about to be deported and 12 million families disenfranchised?'"
(Apparently when Rodriguez speaks here of "brothers and sisters" he's not speaking of American Evangelical brothers and sisters but illegal alien Hispanic brothers and sisters.)
Oh, but Rodriguez doesn't like calling them "illegals". In an interview with Christianity Today, he explained that
"What they do is illegal, but to call them 'illegals' is against the Bible. How can a human being be illegal? That's the very way abortion is justified."
Not only that, but Rodriguez says that
"I'm very disappointed. We need dialogue on why white evangelicals are so threatened by people who are fundamentally in accord with their values."
But what if Rodriguez and white evangelicals can't square the circle of the value we call "The National Question"?
Despite his stridency, Rodriguez is criticized by some other Hispanic Evangelical leaders as being too soft on the Anglos. NHCLC colleague Angel Nunez says
"There are people who are saying, 'Why should you sit at the table to eat with somebody who is a racist?' Some groups in the Latino community feel betrayed, and they say, 'We don't need them.'"
Rodriguez celebrates the pro-illegal alien demonstrations earlier this year as the harbinger of a new movement:
"Hispanic Americans have never had a viable civil-rights movement. This is it—the catalyst for the mobilization of the Hispanic community in America."
Just as secular Hispanic activists rejoice over Hispanic growth in the U.S.A., likewise Rodriguez exults over the growth and influence of Hispanics within the Evangelical movement: "Yes, yes, yes! We're the fastest growing!"
Hmm. Does he say that for religious reasons—or rent-seeking reasons, as an ambitious ethnic leader?
Rodriguez even implies that Hispanic Evangelicals are, well, maybe just better Christians than white ones:
"In the culture wars, Hispanics are on the values side. But social justice is more a part of our ethos [than for other evangelicals]. We're attuned to poverty, homelessness, AIDS. We have a more complete vision of the gospel." [The Call of Samuel by Tim Stafford, Christianity Today Sept. 2006]
And there you have it. It seems that on the immigration issue, Secular Hispanic Activists, Catholic Hispanic Activists, and Evangelical Hispanic Activists are on the same sheet of music. And it's not The Star-Spangled Banner.
On the other hand, white evangelicals (who comprise a quarter of the electorate) are much keener on controlling immigration. According to a May 19th 2006 AP story, Evangelicals Tightlipped on Immigration,
"Pew Research Center polling this year showed nearly two-thirds of white evangelicals thought immigrants threaten 'traditional American customs and values' and are a burden on 'our jobs, housing and health care,' well above the percentages for white Catholics, mainline Protestants and the U.S. population in general."
It's just that (as usual) Evangelical leaders aren't too vocal about it.
Mirroring the elite-grassroots divide in the rest of American society, white Evangelical leaders tend to be more pro-open borders than their parishioners.
It's high time Evangelical leaders spoke out forthrightly about the damage illegal immigration is doing to our nation and its people.
If they don't, Samuel Rodriguez and others will fill the void with their brand of triumphalist Hispanic identity politics.
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here his "Dispatches from Iraq" are archived here his website is here.