Congregational Attitudes toward Immigrants: The Case of Australian Churches
The influx of refugees and immigrants into economically advanced and/or perceived “safe” countries has been a global phenomenon in recent times. While migration itself is not new, the awareness of immigrants and their impact on local communities is arguably unprecedented. Australia is a nation made up predominantly of immigrants. Some 28% of the population in 2014 was born overseas, and 46% of the population in 2011 had a least one parent born overseas. While only about 15% of Australians attend Christian church services, migrants feature heavily in churches. The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) is a local church-based survey which surveys Christian churchgoers across Australia in approximately 20 denominations every five years. In 2011, some 3,100 local churches from 23 denominations took part, which represents 25% of the estimated number of local churches in Australia (not including Orthodox, independent and house churches). This paper draws on results from two Attender Sample Surveys (N = 1,400 approximately for each survey) to engage with four research questions: 1) What are the attitudes of church attendees toward immigrants and toward refugee intake? 2) How do attitudes toward immigrants and refugees vary by age? 3) How do attitudes toward immigrants and refugees vary by level of education? 4) How does the ethnic/cultural background of the congregation affect attender views? Generally, the results reveal that younger and university educated Australians have more positive attitudes toward immigrants compared to older Australians and Australians with school or trade education. The results also show that younger Australians (15 – 19 year old) and older Australians (70 and older) have a more well-formed opinions about immigrants compared to those in the middle of those age categories. The paper discusses the results for each of the research questions. While some findings were unsurprising, others were interestingly unexpected. Wider implications of the findings are discussed.
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