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The New Pilgrims
How Immigrants Are Renewing America's Faith and Values
By Joseph Castleberry
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2015 Joseph Castleberry
All rights reserved.
THE NEW PILGRIMS
Finding an ancestor among the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620 stands as the Holy Grail for Americans who research their family tree. But many other iconic episodes have occurred in American history, such as
the signing of the Declaration of Independence,
Washington's crossing of the Delaware,
the tragic defense of the Alamo,
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation,
the entry of immigrants through Ellis Island,
the planting of the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II,
the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech,
the Woodstock Festival, and
the rescue of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
People who took part in or had association with those events, as well as others, told (or still tell) about it for the rest of their lives. But perhaps none of those events has the same enduring, iconic power as the landing at Plymouth Rock.
What special character did the Pilgrims have that made them such a source of pride for their descendants four hundred years later? They did not arrive as the first permanent British settlers in the Americas. That honor goes to the founders of Jamestown in Virginia. While the descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims would have an important role in the American Revolution and the shaping of American democracy and the United States government, the role of Virginians like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison towers above them in the public's memory. Nevertheless, the Pilgrims of Plymouth hold a special place in the American heart.
While I personally count in my family tree Jamestown founders from 1608 and ancient planters of Virginia as well as many other early American families, I confess I have never found a Pilgrim ancestor. Just recently, my friend Mitch Soule forced me to fold in the game of genealogy poker by trumping my Edward Gurganus of Jamestown with his George Soule, a signer of the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Pilgrims stand supreme as the most coveted American ancestors.
The Pilgrims stand apart from other settlers in early America precisely because they set the tone for what would become a nation founded on biblical values. Their rigorous Reformed version of Christian doctrine did not last very long in colonial Massachusetts and probably never commanded the loyalty of more than about 20 percent of its citizens. But it set a paradigm of rigorous commitment to a Christian faith that undergirds all aspects of life — personal standards, motivations, and ambitions; the family; community life; government; art and architecture; and other spheres of activity and being. The Pilgrims had come to America first and foremost in search of religious freedom. Their commitment to a totally integrated life of faith set the ideal standard for the religious life of the emerging nation, which in time would provide sanctuary — in both senses of the word — for many faiths to thrive, not only in worship but also in full-throated witness.
Not all citizens — usually not even a majority of them — would practice religion as vigorously as others, but devout religious practice would generally enjoy public approval, or at least tolerance, in America. Many other religious immigrants would follow the Pilgrims to Colonial America in large numbers — including French, Irish, and dissenting English Catholics, German Mennonites, English Baptists and Quakers, Scottish Presbyterians, British Methodists, Dutch Reformed, and others, including Jews and Muslims — all adopting a pilgrim status similar to that of the Mayflower immigrants. Their presence in America included commitment to a deeply held personal faith that informed their lives thoroughly. As a result, a new kind of religious nation gradually emerged, which the world had never seen before — a diverse, pluralistic nation where everyone's particular faith would come together to support a national faith-based mission.
Throughout most of the history of Christendom — defined as the community of nations that held Christianity as the religion established legally by the state — only one religion enjoyed sponsorship and tolerance in the nations of Western Europe. Starting with the Emperor Constantine's declaration of Christianity as the state religion of Rome and continuing through Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire and other states, Christianity in the West meant "Roman Catholicism." When the Reformation took place in the sixteenth century, diverse forms of Protestantism arose and became the state religions of a handful of continental principalities and England. Religious wars arose and conflict boiled and simmered for over a hundred years. Many immigrants to the Americas in the seventeenth century — both Protestant and Catholic — faced persecution in their homelands for their dissenting approaches to faith. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts became, for America, a powerful, compelling symbol of all those immigrants who have ever left their homelands to pursue freedom of worship in America — not only Christian immigrants but also Jews, Muslims, and followers of other religions, old and new.
As America put together an unprecedented collection of diverse expressions of Christianity, it experimented with new ways of living out a national religious identity. At first, some individual colonies had different established churches — Congregationalism in Massachusetts, Anglicanism in Virginia — while others adopted relatively full religious freedom from the start — such as Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. As the new nation adopted the Constitution of the United States in 1789, its first amendment ensured the prohibition of an established national religion as well as protection for the free exercise of religion. It took a few decades for state establishment of particular churches to end, but once the First Amendment took hold, it inexorably led to the end of established churches in America.
Thus emerged a marvelous new phenomenon in statecraft — the first majority-Christian nation without an established church. The new nation had a decidedly Judeo-Christian character, and even the freethinking agnostics and atheists, who enjoyed tolerance and constitutionally protected freedom to not practice religion, recognized the biblical basis of the nation's culture. The prohibition of established religion meant that no particular church could have a monopoly on America's soul, and it also meant that Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American religion, atheism, and any other religion would have a free religious market in which to declare its faith and seek or receive new adherents. Indeed, most Americans came to see such freedom as the most authentically Christian way to govern a nation. Freedom not to profess Christian faith enjoyed (imperfect) toleration, as did historic Christianity, new ways of expressing Christian faith, and other religions.
Consequently, America has always allowed prayers at the beginning of public meetings. Our courts carry out business under the invocation of God's blessing. Our money declares "IN GOD WE TRUST." Ever since the days of George Washington at Valley Forge, our military has provided funding for chaplains from across the religious landscape, notably including Muslim chaplains who have recently ministered to American Muslim servicemen and women in the post-9/11 wars in the Middle East. Religious ministers of all faiths have long enjoyed a federal tax subsidy for their housing allowances. Until the Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale in 1962, prayer and Bible reading began the day at most public schools in America. All of these state-sponsored encouragements of religion contributed to the credibility of our national faith in a Creator God who endowed us with equal rights and dignity.
THE DECLINE OF FAITH IN AMERICA
Despite the robust commitment to religious freedom that has historically resulted in vibrant personal religion, the nation's embrace of Judeo-Christian principles seems to have seriously eroded in the past fifty years. Perhaps one of the only things the most convinced atheists share with the most conservative Christians is the denial of America's status as a Christian nation — the former because they never believed in such an identity and the latter because they believe we have completely forfeited it. No observer could possibly argue that the America's cultural elites and the communications media they control — the press, television, cinema — promote the cause of religion in America, and the fastest-growing religious affiliation in America today is those declaring "None." As the Pew Research Center reports, "One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated today."
The increase in nonreligious people in America may reflect the mere fact that people feel more freedom to declare their atheism or agnosticism honestly and forthrightly. Devout Christians often consider that "lukewarm" or nominal Christians enjoy little real spiritual advantage over atheists. Most American Christians do not resent another person's rejection of faith, as little as the atheist's belief in a universe without a Creator may resonate with convinced believers. Christians have long understood the plain fact that most Americans do not attend church regularly and that many do not attend at all. But the widespread rejection of traditional moral values in American society contributes very powerfully to the sense that faith has suffered significant decline.
One reported trend causes the greatest distress to America's committed Christians and the greatest threat of faith's future decline in America: a number of studies suggest that 70 percent of young Protestants abandon church in their twenties. Whether those reports adequately describe all segments of the diverse Christian community or not, they have received widespread reporting and contribute powerfully to a sense of decline. According to Robert Wuthnow, a prominent Evangelical sociologist who teaches at Princeton University, "Unless religious leaders take younger adults more seriously, the future of American religion is in doubt."
Those who value America's history as a majority-Christian nation naturally desire that it experience a new revival in the churches and an awakening to God among those Americans who do not profess or practice Christian faith. Christians who believe in the teaching authority of the Bible see God as "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." As a Christian minister for over thirty years, I have visited at least five hundred different Evangelical churches over my career. In all of them, people cry out in prayer for the salvation of America. Over the past fifty years, much evidence has accrued among our traditional population to suggest that our prayers may not have completely succeeded. It would appear that native-born American Christians have abandoned the faith in significant numbers, as the Christian population in America has declined by 5 percent over the past five years.
ENTER THE NEW PILGRIMS
This tale of recent woes would almost certainly have spelled a more drastic decline in American Christianity had it not been for the massive entry of Christian immigrants into our national population over the past half century. As things stand now, immigrants and their children have kept Christian affiliation at a high level. But as the future unfolds, their effect on America's Christian population will become even more dramatic.
In order for a population to replace itself and maintain its numbers at a constant level, it has to reproduce. Because of infant mortality and other factors, the total fertility rate — that is, the average number of babies born for every two persons over the course of their lifetimes — must be at least 2.1 in developed countries like the United States. At present, the only demographic groups in America that have a birthrate above the replacement level of 2.1 are immigrants and other social conservatives — immigrants at 2.9, white Evangelicals at 3.0, Mormons at about 3.0, Old Order Amish at about 7.0, and various Orthodox Jewish groups from 3.3 to 7.9. In contrast, the low fertility rate of liberals threatens to decrease their numbers substantially in the next generation. Together, the high entry and birthrates of immigrants offer hope for an actual rise in the Christian population of America as well as a rise in population for many other faiths, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. A secularist future for America seems less and less likely, even as a more religiously pluralistic future appears certain.
IMMIGRATION AND EVANGELICALISM
The role of immigrants in shoring up American Evangelicalism shines in the story of the Assemblies of God (AG), a leading Evangelical Protestant denomination. The AG, which completed one hundred years of existence in 2014, has a remarkable record of annual growth over the entire period of its work, showing positive growth every year since 1978 except for tiny declines in 1988 and 1989 — years marked by the scandals involving AG televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. From 2001 to the present, the entire net growth recorded by the denomination has come from ethnic minorities through immigration, a trend that probably began in about 1989.
Before 2001, the AG — like almost all other denominations — did not track the ethnic identity of its members, but the number of members from ethnic minority groups clearly began growing in the 1980s. By 2001, whites made up 70.6 percent of the denomination. According to the 2000 census, whites made up 75.1 percent of the American population at that time. By 2012, the number of white members in the AG had declined by about 2o,ooo, and the percentage of whites had fallen to 59.2 percent. Hispanics, led by immigrants, grew from 16.3 percent to 21.7 percent. The total minority population — overwhelmingly fed by immigration — had grown to almost 41 percent of the total membership.
According to Scott Temple, director of ethnic relations for the General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA), if current growth patterns continue, the AG will become a minority-majority denomination by 2020, meaning that no ethnic or racial group will constitute a majority of the population. This phenomenon puts the AG ahead of the national trend, as the Census Bureau expects the nation as a whole to reach minority-majority status in 2043. By far, the lion's share of this growth among ethnic minorities has come from immigrants. Although virtually all Evangelical and Mainline churches have added immigrants to their rolls, the Assemblies of God has seen truly remarkable growth from immigration and the conversion of immigrants. How did the AG achieve so much success in attracting immigrants?
One of the key factors in the AG's growth has been its strong emphasis and success in foreign missions. While the American AG currently includes over 3.1 million adherents, its total worldwide constituency stood at over 67.5 million in 2013, of which some 30 million live in Latin America, a major source of immigration to the United States. The AG also has huge constituencies in South Korea, the Philippines, Nigeria, and other major source countries for immigrants to America.
A second key factor in AG success has been its strong emphasis on missionary work inside the United States. From its earliest days, the AG has understood the importance of allowing language groups to form their own ecclesial identities. After the founding of the denomination in 1914, Henry C. Ball founded a convention for Spanish-speaking pastors in 1918, followed by the founding of a German branch by European immigrants in 1922. As new immigrant groups arose, "language fellowships" emerged for Filipinos (1943), Ukrainians (1943), Hungarians (1944), Polish (1944), and Yugoslavians (1945). In 1973, the Assemblies established the most successful of these groups as self-governing districts with representation on the national governing council, the General Presbytery. Recognizing in 1983 that immigration had been on the increase since its low point in 1970, the AG launched a new initiative, "Mission America," to reach the newcomers.
"How should Christians respond to the overwhelming tide of immigration — the influx of foreign, anti-Christian cultures and religions?" asked James Kessler rhetorically in the Pentecostal Evangel, the weekly magazine of the AG. "It is imperative that we take a new, long look at Christ's command and develop a responsible attitude toward Home Missions. America has become a mission field in the truest sense." Ministry to new immigrants increased, and even as older groups assimilated into English-speaking churches and some of the early fellowships and districts dissolved, new immigrant groups raised the total number of language fellowships to twenty by 2014.
Excerpted from The New Pilgrims by Joseph Castleberry. Copyright © 2015 Joseph Castleberry. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
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Table of Contents
1. The New Pilgrims,
2. Why Pilgrims? The Essential Link between Christianity and Migration,
3. The New Pilgrims Speak,
4. Why Do They Come?,
5. Why Christian Immigrants Justify Breaking Immigration Laws,
6. Immigrants and Revival in American History,
7. The New Latino Reformation,
8. Renewing the Churches,
9. Renewing Family Values,
10. Renewing the Economy,
11. Renewing Higher Education,
12. Renewing American Politics,
13. The Bible and Our Immigration Crisis,
14. The City on a Hill,