Third World immigration, contrary to the claim of Philip Jenkins?(“A New Christian America,” Views, November 2001), is not making America more Christian.  The Catholicism of Latin America and the Caribbean (the leading source of immigrants), is often nominal—a veneer covering a wide variety of pre-Columbian superstitions, African spirituality (e.g., Santeria), and simple unbelief.  It is not the biblically based faith that historically has characterized the United States.  Can anyone honestly claim that America would be more Christian if her values and spirituality were more like those of Mexico, El Salvador, or Haiti?

Even if we accept religious designations at face value, however, it is clear that current immigration is significantly swelling non-Christian faiths.  In 1978, there were two million Muslims in the United States; today, there are at least four million, and possibly more.  Since 1978, the Hindu population in America has increased from 75,000 to one million, and Buddhists grew from 11,000 to three quarters of a million.  Dr. Jenkins says that we should not worry, because these numbers are a relatively small portion of the total population.  But their past growth and continuing growth, thanks to mass immigration, will make the United States less Christian than it would have been otherwise.

The increasing Muslim population is particularly problematic, given the historic and present friction between Islam and Western societies.  The dynamic strength of Islam can project beyond small numbers.  Already, we see public deference to this faith, which few would have foreseen just 15 or 20 years ago.

Anti-Christian multiculturalists, no doubt, are relishing these trends.  But many Christians have been too heavenly minded to notice, and some who have noticed have taken refuge in the warm and fuzzy belief that all these newcomers will give the Church new opportunities to make converts.  They might reflect instead on the reality that conversion is a two-way street.  The ancient Israelites, despite the prophets’ warnings, embraced nonbelievers in Israel and eventually embraced their paganism as well.  In keeping with this principle, Jesus told his followers to go to all nations, not to invite all nations.

Dr. Jenkins concedes that many “Christian conservatives . . . dislike mass immigration.”  They do so for good reason.

        —John Vinson
Monterey, VA

Dr. Jenkins Replies:

I stand by my argument.  Clearly, everything depends on how we define “Christian.”  Much of what we think of as traditional Christian symbolism and culture (e.g., Gothic architecture, ecclesiastical poetry and music) was, in its day, a form of accommodation to the surrounding society.  The Catholic Church of the middle ages—like many of its Protestant successors—had no problem taking on cultural forms so long as the substance of the faith was not compromised.  I do not believe that medieval veneration of the Virgin Mary compromised the Christian message any more than do the Marian devotions of modern-day Mexico.  (Vodun and Santeria are much tougher cases to argue.)  As for the rise of non-Christian religions, they represent a somewhat larger portion of the population than in, say, 1940, but not dramatically so.  Meanwhile, the Christian population seems at least as convinced and passionate about its faith as it has for many years.  If you ever want to meet a real Christian conservative, find a Ugandan or a Nigerian Ibo.