In my experience talking to churches and Christian groups around the U.S., I’ve found that one of the best indicators of how a person will approach the issue of immigration is his or her age. While there are some wonderful exceptions, a lot of older people have had fewer interactions with immigrants and, in my experience, seem more likely to believe everything they hear on TV about immigrants—which, depending on which media they’re consuming, sometimes gives them a pretty negative perspective.
After I speak at a church, sharing a biblical perspective on immigration, I usually have a handful of people come up to tell me how much they resonated with what I said and a few disgruntled folks who strongly disagreed with me. The folks eager to join me in a movement to challenge the ways that the Church responds to immigrants and to questions of immigration policy are very often my age; the naysayers are very seldom under the age of 50.
Polling conducted by CBS News and the New York Times confirms this “generation gap.” 41% of Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 believe that immigration levels should be decreased, compared to just 24% of Americans under the age of 45. The Times article suggests the divergence is the result of more exposure to other cultures amongst younger Americans than their parents’ generation: “As children [the younger] generation watched ‘Sesame Street’ with Hispanic characters, many of them sat in classrooms that were a virtual United Nations, and now they marry across ethnic lines in record numbers.” In the church context, the most multi-ethnic churches that I’ve visited tend to be comprised primarily of people in the 25 to 40 demographic—and those were also the first churches to ask me to speak about immigration.
I don’t think we should give up on the older generation: when they understand the facts, I find that the vast majority of them agree with the conclusions of evangelical institutions such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention (led, for the most part, by folks in the 50 and older demographic) in calling for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
At the same time, though, I believe young people who are mobilized to act are likely to lead this shift in the church. That’s why I’m so excited to be a part of a conference called G92, which will take place from October 20 through 22 at Cedarville University in Ohio. The title of the conference is a reference to the ninety-two references to the Hebrew word for an immigrant (ger) in the Old Testament: the conference’s aim is to “equip the next generation for an effective biblical response to immigration.”
Several immigrant youth—many of them DREAM Act-eligible students—will be sharing their own stories. I’m also excited to be there, along with an impressive lineup of speakers. They include my World Relief colleague Jenny Yang, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals, Alex Mandes of the Evangelical Free Church, Eve Nunez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal.
With endorsements from a range of evangelical organizations, including the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, we hope that a lot of Christian college students and young people will be part of the event. The deadline for registration was October 12 but we want to encourage as many g92.org supporters as possible to follow updates from the conference and help spread the word by “liking” this post as well as the G92 Facebook page. I hope to see many of you there!
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, contact [email protected].