More Christians are immigrating to the United States. What does this mean for Americans? It depends on who you ask.
Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest and regular New York Times columnist asserted in her March editorial that the racial diversification of America through immigration from the global South may lead to a more socially conservative approach to Christianity.
While I agree that a more racially diverse America will probably challenge longstanding conventions in American Christianity, I don’t believe that a more socially conservative approach to Christianity in America is inevitable. In fact, as a queer pastor serving a racially and ethnically diverse and fully LGBTQ+ inclusive congregation, I find this interpretation to be disappointing and out of line with how I understand the Bible and recent statistics.
According to Warren, “White progressives will be in the awkward spot of choosing whether to continue to push boundaries about sexuality and gender – which will put them on the side of largely white, wealthier Westerners – or to be in solidarity with those from the majority world who most likely hold views that are out of step with social progressivism.” John Blake of CNN offered similar thoughts in his April article, “Predictions about the decline of Christianity in America may be premature.”
But the suggestion that communities of color living in the United States do not or will not embrace the LGBTQ+ community is not based in fact.
A 2022 PRRI study establishes that large majorities of people of color in America are willing to support LGBTQ+ protections — and that future immigrants of color from the global majority may do so as well.
While there are few reliable statistics about global Christian sentiments around LGBTQ+ issues, data from immigrant communities and people of color who are already in the United States demonstrate that people of color are as willing (or more willing) to change their minds on LGBTQ+ issues and issues of gender than other groups, particularly White evangelicals.
A 2022 PRRI study looking at American values found that “Vast majorities of most major religious groups support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people,” and “majorities of almost every major racial and ethnic group support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.” While the demographics in this study do not differentiate between communities of recent immigrants and other communities of color, it does establish that large majorities of people of color in America are willing to support these protections — and that future immigrants of color from the global majority may do so as well.
In fact, the same PRRI study shows Christians of color are more likely to support non-discrimination protections than White evangelical Protestants. While 62% of White evangelical Protestants support non-discrimination protections, 67% of Hispanic Protestants, 79% of Black Protestants, 75% of Protestants of color, and 79% of Catholics of color support the same protections.
Furthermore, these communities of color have grown their support of non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people more in recent years than White mainline or evangelical Protestants. Between 2015-2022, the number of White mainline Protestants who support non-discrimination protections grew 10% (from 73%-83%) and the number of White evangelical Protestant supporters grew 6% (from 56%-62%). Yet, the number of Black protestants and other Protestants of color supporting these protections increased 15% (from 64%-79%) and 14% (from 61%-75%), respectively.
Warren and Blake also ignore that the conservative values of Christians in the global South have not all emerged organically from their native cultures. African Christians in particular have been subject to a decades-long, well-funded legal and evangelization campaign to fight LGBTQ+ rights and spread anti-LGBTQ+ theology on the part of white American Evangelicals.
But more than the assumptions, I find the theology offered by Warren and Blake troubling. In Warren’s case, it is peculiar to watch a more conservative Christian argue that culture should influence the reading of the gospel – that progressive American Christians might have to adapt or bend to conservative cultural understandings of gender and sexuality as we adapt to living in a more religiously and culturally diverse America – rather than the other way around.
I believe that Scripture tells us that a racially and ethnically diverse, socially progressive future is possible. In Acts 8, Phillip is mystically whisked away to encounter a stranger on a desolate road. The man, an important and perhaps wealthy figure in his own country, is pondering a text from Isaiah as he rides home in his chariot, and Phillip, prompted by the Holy Spirit, approaches this man with his own interpretation of the text — and tells him the good news about Jesus.
The Ethiopian eunuch then asks, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” — and Phillip baptizes him then and there.
Based on this text, the only answer I see to the question, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” when the person is queer or gay or exists outside culturally accepted paradigms of gender, marriage and family, is Phillip’s answer.
Nothing. There is nothing that stands in the way when someone wants to dedicate their life to Christ and join the church, as they are.
For queer Christians like me who are working towards a more radically inclusive church, it is significant that one of the earliest Christian converts was different in terms of gender and sexuality. As a eunuch, he was unable to fit in with common paradigms about marriage and family, and he was drawn to the story of Jesus. He was also an African, a person from outside both Greco-Roman and Jewish/Judean cultures.
For LGBTQ+ affirming Christians, as well as those working towards diversity, inclusion, and anti-racist practices in our churches, this story demonstrates that embracing different ethnicities and cultures as well as sexually and gender-diverse people has always been integral to the gospel. Inclusive theology isn’t a new concept – it is a return to the wild openness and abundant mercy that marked the early church of Acts.
Affirming Christians believe that a faithful reading of Scripture with attention to the cultural and linguistic context in which the text was written offers LGBTQ+ folks the same grace and salvation as everyone else. We are deeply convicted that God works toward our collective liberation. When people like Warren and Blake insinuate that people of color who were raised in a more traditional or socially conservative context cannot be convinced of a larger understanding of grace is troubling — and even dehumanizing.
While the articles by Warren and Blake are correct that historically White, mainline congregations like the PC(USA) will be challenged by the diversifying of America, these kinds of challenges are not new to the work of the gospel. As we see in Acts 8, the church in all its forms has always been pushed – by the Holy Spirit, no less – to preach the gospel to anyone who wants to receive it and to be open to the cultures and ethnicities of those who embrace it, as well as those who live with other forms of marginalization.
As we see in Acts 8, the church in all its forms has always been pushed – by the Holy Spirit, no less – to preach the gospel to anyone who wants to receive it and to be open to the cultures and ethnicities of those who embrace it, as well as those who live with other forms of marginalization.
The church has not always answered this call to collective liberation and inclusivity often with tragic and oppressive results. But this story from Acts 8 demonstrates that this call is not new.
A more racially diverse but socially conservative Christianity may indeed be the future of the church in America, but isn’t a racially and ethnically diverse, inclusive future possible, too?