The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The group least likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees? Evangelicals.

A Syrian girl sits on a water container April 18 at a camp for displaced Syrians from the former rebel bastion of Douma, in al-Bil, east of the rebel-held town of Azaz, in northern Syria. (Zein al-Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)

In February 2017, as debate raged nationally over President Trump’s decision to curtail immigration to the United States, the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network dipped into the Bible to share what that sacred text said about refugees.

“Treat refugees the way you want to be treated,” it said, quoting Leviticus. “Invite the stranger in” (Matthew) and “Open your door to the traveler” (Job).

The first comment in reply to the article captures the tone of the rest of the feedback the site received: “Shame on CBN for this very poorly written article full of political rhetoric. This is not a Biblical issue.”

At the time, polling from Pew Research Center showed that about 56 percent of Americans believed that the United States had a responsibility to welcome refugees into the country. In the year since, that figure has dropped and is now at a bare majority, 51 percent.

But Pew’s new research includes a fascinating detail: No group agrees less with the idea that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees than white evangelical Protestants.

Only 25 percent of evangelicals told Pew that they believed the United States has such a responsibility, half the percentage of Catholics who said the same thing and substantially lower than the religiously unaffiliated. In statistical terms, the percentage of evangelicals holding that view was about equal to the percentage of Republicans, 26 percent, given margins of error.

The next least-supportive group was those without college degrees, nearly 4 in 10 of whom agreed with the idea that a responsibility existed. Among mainline white Protestants, the percentage was slightly higher.

There is, of course, a heavy overlap between evangelical Americans and Republicans. Since Trump took office, the percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believing that there is a responsibility to accept refugees has slipped from about a third to just over a quarter. That’s what’s driven the overall number lower; support for accepting refugees among Democrats has increased.

A key difference between those who identify as Republicans and those who identify as evangelicals, of course, is that the latter necessarily ascribe to a religious worldview. We’ve seen the boundaries of that worldview shift over the past several years, as Trump quickly became the preferred candidate of evangelical voters.

In October 2016, after The Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump describes groping women, the pollsters at PRRI asked Americans whether an elected official who’d committed an immoral act in their personal life could still behave ethically in office. In 2011, 30 percent of evangelicals said that he or she could, the lowest percentage of any religious group. In 2016, 72 percent of evangelicals said that the politician could do so — the highest percentage.

The gulf between what might be expected and the political reality would not be unfamiliar to the author of that article at CBN about the Bible and refugees.

Pew notes that evangelicals who support Trump and oppose accepting refugees are getting what they hoped for. So far this fiscal year, the number of refugees accepted to the country is down dramatically.