January 5, 2010

Prudential Differences from Pulpit to Pew

Justin Katz

Whenever the issue of immigration comes up with some reference to religious groups, especially where Roman Catholic clergy are involved, somebody inevitably calls in to talk radio to declare that it's really just a scheme to increase the number of church-going Hispanics. The claim is more cynical than is merited, but to the extent that such considerations potentially play a subconscious role, Mark Krikorian points out another dynamic that should be considered:

The three Christian groups had remarkably similar views, with born-agains slightly more hawkish and Catholics slightly more dovish, as you'd expect; in any case, overwhelming majorities thought overall immigration was too high and preferred attrition over legalization as a way to deal with the current illegal population. While Jews were most permissive, again as expected, even there a plurality preferred attrition, and ten times more said immigration was too high as opposed to too low. These views are the opposite of the leadership of the various denominations, which uniformly, and with increasing stridency, support amnesty and increased immigration.

Given that the difference of opinion between religious leaders and followers spans denominations and even religions, the underlying cause seems more likely to be one of perspective than of self-interest:

Overwhelming majorities of all groups [of lay people] thought illegal immigration was caused by inadequate enforcement rather than by limits on legal immigration, and also that there are plenty of American workers to fill low-skilled jobs, if the wages and working conditions were improved, as opposed to needing to increase legal immigration.

Perhaps church leaders should adjust their prudential judgment in light of the experience of their flocks, who by the nature of their vocations, spend more time interacting with the economy. By advocating for increases in the nation's low-end workforce, as well as for social welfare and amnesty policies as incentive for crossing our border by any means possible, clergy are helping to suppress the economy's ability to improve working and living conditions for everybody.