While federal judges and lawyers argue over whether President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on travel amounts to a “Muslim ban,” evangelical experts on Muslim missions express concerns over how popular the proposal is in America’s pews.
The Pew Research Center has found that self-identified white evangelicals were twice as likely as Americans overall to support the policy (76% vs. 38%), which temporarily halts the refugee program and restricts entry from several Muslim-majority countries. They are also, according to PRRI, the only religious group in America that has grown more supportive of a “Muslim ban.”
As Muslim migrants flee unstable and violent homelands, the mission field that was once half a world away is making its way to more and more American communities.
Last year, the United States admitted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, a record high.
“This is the best chance we’ve had in human history to share the love of Christ with Muslims,” according to David Cashin, intercultural studies professor at Columbia International University and an expert in Muslim-Christian relations.
But survey after survey indicates that white evangelicals are the least excited about their new neighbors. They show the highest levels of support for restrictions on Muslim immigration and the most skepticism toward Muslim Americans.
“Because of these attitudes,” Cashin said, “we could miss the opportunity.”
White evangelicals are also the least likely to know a Muslim, and their views often conflict with how Muslims in the US and abroad describe their beliefs.
“I think there is some fear on behalf of a lot of evangelicals,” said Michael Urton, associate director of the Coalition of Ministries to Muslims in North America (COMMA Network). “A lot of that is because people do not know Muslims. They do not know what Muslims believe, and they feel overwhelmed. It creates this paralysis.”
Muslims in the United States
The majority of self-identified white evangelicals—about 70 percent—are “very concerned” about Islamic extremism in the United States, a recent Pew survey showed, compared to about 50 percent of Americans overall.
Half of white evangelicals also believe that there is a “great deal” or “fair amount” of support for extremism among Muslims living in the US. (This is a minority position among other faith groups.)
“We don’t want to be naïve and pretend that terrorism isn’t a problem, but we don’t want to be alarmist and assume that Muslims are all terrorists,” said Urton, whose Gurnee, Illinois, church hosted dozens of local Muslims at its Christmas service last year. “Many are victims of terrorism, and they don’t want to see their sons and daughters killed.”
Muslims now make up about 1 percent of the US population with an estimated 3.3 million people. White evangelicals, along with fellow Christians, remain concerned about how Muslim faith and culture fit with the American way of life, and doubt that immigrants and refugees can assimilate.
According to a PRRI poll conducted last year, 74 percent of white evangelicals, 66 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 63 percent of white Catholics said they saw Islamic and American values in conflict.
“That assumes that human beings can’t change, which is not a biblical value,” Cashin said. “If you want Muslims to assimilate, you better be out there showing them the love of Christ. If you want to reject them, they’ll form ghettos.”