Steven Eng, advocacy director of the National Association of Evangelicals, works with NAE leaders, constituents and others to help advance the principles of the NAE document, “For the Health of the Nation,” as they use their God-given influence to bless our nation. Eng served for three decades as an ordained evangelical pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. He received a degree in political science from St. Olaf College and a M.Div. degree from North Park Theological Seminary.
In my role as advocacy director for the National Association of Evangelicals, I travel around the country, talking with evangelical pastors, leaders and congregations. We often discuss much-needed policy reforms that align with Scripture, strengthen the health of our nation, and better support those on the margins.
Along the way, I find many who are open to and grateful for these conversations. And yet when I scroll through news articles or commentaries, many focus on fear and anger dividing our churches or our nation. This is the case across many issues, including views on immigration.
But on immigration at least, a recent study by Lifeway Research shows that instead of increasing division, there is increasing consensus among evangelicals. This is welcome news.
Sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief, this study finds that a large majority of evangelicals want a balanced approach to immigration. For instance, four out of five say legal immigration is helpful to the United States, and two out of three believe the country should at least maintain the current number of legal immigrants approved in a year.
Lifeway Research worked with World Relief to conduct a similar study back in 2015. In almost every category, evangelicals have moved closer to views that protect and welcome immigrants, including 70 percent who say the United States has a moral responsibility to accept refugees and 78 percent who support a path to citizenship for immigrants who are currently in the country illegally. And 80 percent back bipartisan immigration reform that strengthens border security, establishes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and provides a reasonable number of screened, legally admitted farmworkers.
Furthermore, many see the arrival of immigrants as an opportunity for churches and our nation — with nearly half saying this is an opportunity to show them love (46 percent) and introduce them to Jesus (41 percent). While pastors sometimes avoid bringing up controversial issues such as immigration, 76 percent of evangelicals say they would value hearing a sermon that teaches biblical principles and provides examples that can be applied to immigration in the United States.
What does this research mean for evangelical pastors and leaders?
First, there is a growing desire to find common ground on migration issues — and a deep reservoir of compassion towards immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Compared to the Lifeway study in 2015, this year’s study showed significant increases in support for protecting the unity of immigrant families (from 72 percent to 92 percent) and establishing a path towards citizenship (from 61 percent to 77 percent).
Second, this study suggests that church leaders have an opportunity to offer biblical clarity on today’s complex issue of immigration. Based on my work with pastors and church leaders who have broached the topic, here are a few suggestions:
- Ground your teaching and dialogue in Scripture. Don’t assume people know what the Bible has to say on a topic. And take courage preaching challenging subjects such as loving enemies or defending the vulnerable.
- Acknowledge your personal biases. Admit you might be mistaken on a topic, are open to learning more, and that people can disagree with you.
- Consider hosting roundtable discussions. Some complex topics are better discussed around tables than preached. Bring in outside speakers and resources. And set ground rules for conversation from the outset. For example:
- Practice humility. We listen to one another, speak and approach Scripture in humility, affirming the Bible’s authority (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
- Acknowledge fears and anxieties. Ask, “What anxieties do you have regarding this topic? What do you hope to learn from our discussion?”
- Clarify foundational premises. State that shared theological convictions matter (such as Scripture’s authority and freedom in Christ), as does Jesus’ example of respecting outcasts and his command to love God and others.
- Access helpful resources and tools. The Evangelical Immigration Table has developed many biblically rooted immigration resources for churches and leaders. Similarly, you can find powerful NAE resources on complex topics including immigration, along with tools that make advocating simple and effective.
Here to Help!
We would be happy to come alongside your church as you help your community navigate complex issues with biblical clarity. We can connect you with like-minded evangelicals in your area, arrange speakers or provide resources.Email Steve