Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change

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Janelle S. Wong
  • New York, NY: 
    Russell Sage Foundation
    , June
     2018.
     144 pages.
     $24.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780871548931.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, Janell S. Wong, a social-scientist scholar, presents research on how the growing numbers of Latinx and Asian American evangelicals influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. Donald Trump’s core evangelical constituency may change the political climate in the future. To prove her thesis, the author conducted a multimethod analysis of the diversity in American evangelicalism based on race, religion, and politics. In her research, she discovered that the “image of the evangelical voters has remained one-dimensional over time,” because the political conservativism of American evangelicals is predominantly white (13). However, unlike this white monolithic image, the political attitudes of Latinx and Asian American evangelicals tend to be more progressive. In contrast, Wong maintains these nonwhite immigrants—including Latinx and Asian American evangelicals—constitute “the only source of growth in the American evangelical population” (13), because the white evangelical population is declining. Considering the underlying intersection of race, religion, and politics, the author expects to demonstrate the diversity of the political attitudes and decisions made among non-white American evangelicals—including black, Latinx, and Asian American evangelicals.

The book is composed of five chapters. In chapter 1, Wong discusses the ongoing controversy over the perceived overriding power of white evangelicals in conservative US politics. Wong presents her research methods to support the important aspects of the rising numbers of immigrants as well as the growth of diverse political attitudes of non-white evangelicals. For example, Wong conducted extensive research through the 2016 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey (CMPS), which includes more than ten thousand completed interviews with white, black, Latinx, and Asian (“Asian American”) respondents from December 3, 2016, to February 15, 2017 (8). Through this research, she unfolds how race and religion worked together to shape political attitudes through demographic changes in American evangelicalism.

In chapters 2 and 3, presenting her data analysis, Wong displays the persistence of differences between white and non-white evangelicals in terms of religious identity and political attitudes, which include the broader boundaries of national community feeling between Asian American and Latinx evangelicals. Her proof is a systematic analysis of “the role played by race in attitude formation across diverse racial groups and religion” (7) and “the community boundaries of perceptions of in-group embattlement” (39), with “both the political commonalities and the political distinctions” (15) among the diversity of American evangelicals. According to her analysis, nonwhite evangelicals are generally open to American politics that are more conservative and “more likely part of ‘the evangelical vote’ for Republican candidates than other members of their racial and ethnic community” (38). Wong points out that non-white evangelicals have a shared Christian identity, such as the Bible being used for spiritual guidance, in their choices for a political party. However, among non-white evangelical members, both race and religion remain critical aspects of identity and community formation to give them a sense of in-group belonging and embattlement as members of the minority. Therefore, non-white evangelicals’ political attitudes include broader and more diverse perspectives in their political orientations of conservatism than that of the conservative political attitudes among white evangelicals (62). 

Chapter 4 examines “how immigrant trends are reshaping the evangelical community” (7) within the immigration policy and political conservatism. Some non-white evangelicals and non-evangelical immigrants are concerned about immigration and social justice issues. However, the tendency of nonwhite evangelicals’ conservativism in American politics is still prevalent as opposed to their non-evangelical co-ethnic groups (63). Ethnic groups of nonwhite evangelical churches have shared their religious identity, which has provided an advantage for the Republicans. The author, especially, argues that pastors of the conservative churches have played a pivotal role in leading congregations to political conservativism. As a result, the agenda of white evangelicals has prevailed because non-whites have voted for the same candidates as the white evangelicals (87).

In conclusion, chapter 5 attempts to explain “the structural limits to the influence of racially diverse evangelicals on the dominant white evangelical agenda”(7). Although “race turns out to matter a great deal in terms of evangelicals’ political orientations” (7), the main reasons for this continuous conservativism among non-white evangelicals are connected to more conservative attitudes toward both their religious identity and to the “hot-button” social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage (14). Accordingly, non-white evangelicals’ religious identity is an important element of personal choice rather than their racial identities, which shapes their political attitudes and behavior. Before her research findings, Wong assumed that racial and ethnic diversity would shake “the traditional and conservative Christian base” of American politics led by white evangelicals (14). In addition, the population growth of Asian American and Latinx evangelicals would shake the current conservative political conservativism. However, she discovers that these factors—racial and ethnic diversity and growing nonwhite evangelicals—do not mean the growth of political power for these groups. They are “limited by their geographic concentration, ideological profile, lower levels of political participation, and organizational capacity and coordination” (98). Wong concludes that this demographic change, based on the backdrop of a steadily declining white evangelical population and a growing Asian American and Latinx evangelical population, may not translate politically into a more progressive government (98).

This book provides a powerful credential for Wong’s argument backed by her analysis of the extensive data pool of online surveys and interviews. Of 298,159 email addresses selected, 29,489 people accepted to take the survey. This produced an effective rate of 9.9 percent. Of those, 10,145 completed the full questionnaire, or a rate of 57.6 percent (100). This data ruptures the perception of a single dimension of white evangelical domination of the current Republican political climate. However, the data also reveals the diversity of political views among non-white evangelicals and shows how their structural and theological limitations drive their political choices. Although, with her in-depth research, Wong anticipates finding a different trajectory from the growing numbers of non-white evangelicals that could still change the political climate of American conservativism, the data reveals a theologically real conservativism in non-white evangelicals. However, the data also show a diverse spectrum within non-white evangelicals in relation to race, religion, political attitudes and behaviors that might bring a new future to American politics. Wong's broad data analysis has paved the way for more research in terms of race, religion, and politics in America. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jungja Joy Yu is a doctoal candidate in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

Date of Review: 
November 6, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Janelle S. Wong is Professer of American Studies at the University of Maryland.

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