2016 and the Growing Demographic of Evangelical Hispanics

The Primitive Christian Church in New York in 2009. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The Primitive Christian Church in New York in 2009. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

GOP candidates talking about immigration need to take into account this growing demographic.

In 1976, journalists writing about presidential candidate Jimmy Carter’s religious faith often felt obliged to define the meaning of the phrase “born again.” The fact that the concept was quite familiar to millions of Americans didn’t matter; it seemed exotic to some in government and media. In 2016, evangelical Christians may have to explain “born again” makes perfectly good sense, whether in English or in Spanish.

Last week in Houston, several thousand Hispanic evangelicals gathered to worship and to discuss matters such as the sanctity of life, racial justice, economic growth and the values of hard work. A few weeks ago, a thousand or so Latino evangelicals in the broadly Calvinist tradition met in Orlando to speak about theology, evangelism and church-planting. The conferences reflect an underappreciated demographic fact: Born-again Protestant Hispanic congregations are growing quickly. One recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 16% of the nation’s Hispanics identify as evangelicals—and that number is steadily on the rise.

Presidential candidates, especially Republican presidential hopefuls, should take notice. The immigration skirmishes over the past several years have turned the topic into a culture-war issue it should never have become. The Republican House is so afraid to touch immigration policy that it has taken no action at all, not even to provide an alternative to the Senate’s reform attempt or to the president’s reckless unilateral action.

Republican presidential candidates may face the temptation that several faced in past primary cycles, of proving their conservative bona fides by taking the shrillest possible view of immigrants. After all, some might reason, past presidential aspirants Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich were savaged by opponents simply for suggesting that we ought to have a heart regarding children brought to this country by their parents. Some will remember this and think that harsh talk about immigrants is necessary.

To do so would be a mistake, both morally and strategically. And an immigrant-bashing candidate may find that he is alienating not only people in the boardrooms but also people in the pews.

Evangelicals may be divided about the best way to fix the immigration system, but they are not divided about immigrants. After all, evangelicals are those who, along with Roman Catholics, have led the national pro-life movement, arguing that a person’s worth is not wrapped up in how “useful” he or she is deemed to be. One’s worth is intrinsic as part of the humanity for which Christ died.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Russell Moore

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