America is a nation of immigrants that, ironically, often fears immigrants. But it’s not just any immigrants–it’s the “wrong” immigrants. Historically, our immigration policies have been based on racism and religious bias. European Protestants were welcome; Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and others were suspect.
One result is diversity within American religion. Some religions have many immigrants. Most churches do not, with some with relatively few immigrants in their pews.
Using the Religious Landscape Survey (which has the advantage of having over 35,000 respondents) we can get a snapshot into what percentage of churches, denominations, and religions are immigrants. An immigrant is someone who was either born outside the U.S. or has at least one parent who is an immigrant.
Here are some key findings:
- The most-immigrant faiths are not Christian. Hindus, Jews (of various streams), Buddhists, and Muslims each have above average levels of immigrants.
- Orthodox Christians, many of which have ties to post-Soviet countries, are also a high-immigrant faith.
- Churches that have a large presence in Europe (and their former colonies) are more likely to have immigrants. This includes Catholics, but also Anglicans, Lutherans, and Reformed churches.
- There are also higher percentage of immigrants in home-grown faiths that have had strong, successful missionary movements, including Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and pentecostal churches.
- Who has low percentage of immigrants? Methodists and Baptists. This includes both historically white churches (United Methodists and Southern Baptists) and historically black churches (African Methodist Episcopal and National Baptists). Southern Baptist Association is America’s largest Protestant group, but only two to four percent of the SBC are immigrants.