By Gordon L. Heath
Over the past few months there has been a lot of talk in the US and European Union (EU) about building walls to keep out waves of immigrants and refugees. With there being similarities of oft-shrill commentary regarding such mass movements of people, one could easily make the mistake of conflating the US and EU contexts. That would be an error, for there is really a tale of two walls.
US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump stunned listeners when he boldly proclaimed he would build a wall to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out of the US.
Various eastern European nations such as Macedonia, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia, have recently begun rapidly putting up fences to stem the tide of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. One pundit called them the new “Iron Curtains.”1
Both America and the EU do have a problem with people on the move. The US has roughly 11 million illegal immigrants, half of which are Mexican.2 Over the past few years, European nations have faced a veritable flood of refugees fleeing war and unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In 2015 alone, more than a million refugees or migrants (mainly Muslim) entered the EU, most settling in central or South Eastern Europe.3
In the US, the “Latinization of America” is ongoing, and no wall will stop it. It is estimated that by 2050, one in four Americans will be Latino.4 The impact of Hispanics on American culture is already evident in the arts, workforce, education, and politics. And Latinos are readily, willingly, and widely assimilating and becoming Americanized.
In the EU, the growth of Islam over the past decades has already been noted, and the recent flood of refugees from predominantly Muslim regions has simply accelerated the movement of Muslims into historically Christian lands; Russia (10%), Germany (5.8%), and France (7.5%) having the largest Muslim populations.5 While many Muslims desire to assimilate in their new found homes, European politicians are increasingly having to come to grips with the fact that some do not.
In both the US and EU, one of the concerns is what impact such movements will mean for Christian identity (or what we call Christendom). It seems to me that – despite the shared discourse of building walls – the US and EU experiences are significantly different, especially in regards to the nature of, and existence of, a cohesive Christian identity.
For instance, concerns over the loss of White America – often conflated with Christian America – are evident, and Trump’s promise to build a wall to help “Make America Great Again” is a (not so) covert message to those who fear the future and want to return to the “good ol’ days” of White Christian America. However, those fearful of the arrival of Latinos fail to recognize that, while the growth of Hispanics or Latinos does erode a White Protestant Christendom, it does not undermine a “Christian America.” Hispanics are predominantly Christian (mostly Catholic), so the arrival and growth of millions of Hispanics only contributes to and bolsters the Christian identity of the nation. In fact, in some places their arrival rescues a flagging white church.6
The situation in the EU is quite different; the proximity to the world of Islam, the history of Muslim invasions, the multiplicity of nations and their varied responses, and the EU concept of open borders makes for a very different context than that faced by the US. The nature of Christian identity is being recast in the US through migration, but the EU faces issues related to the very existence of Christian identity. It would be living in a Pollyanna world to ignore history and demographics, and, while there may be similar talk of building walls, the situation in the EU requires a very different tack by both governments and churches.
2. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/19/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/; http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/20/what-we-know-about-illegal-immigration-from-mexico/
6. See my previous post on this: www.mcmasterdivinity.ca/pcs/blog/immigrants-rescue-christian-migration-and-rebirth-church
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*