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Churchgoers more likely to welcome immigration, new study suggests

09 February 2018


The UK border at Heathrow airport, Terminal 2, pictured in 2015

The UK border at Heathrow airport, Terminal 2, pictured in 2015

PEOPLE who attend church regularly are more likely to welcome immigration than the general population, including Christians who do not attend church regularly, a new study suggests.

The study, Faith and Welcoming: Do the religious feel differently about immigration and immigrants?, published this week, was written by students and staff at the University of Bristol. It was commissioned by BBC local radio. It uses, it says, “a range of sources for the 2010-2017 period to examine the relationship between religious affiliation and attitudes to immigration”, such as the British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys and the European Social Survey.

The report says: “Of those who attend weekly or more often, 64 per cent say that the number of immigrants should be reduced. Of those who never attend, 81 per cent the number should be reduced. This suggests that regular attendance at a place of worship encourages tolerance towards immigration and immigrants, beyond the effect of religious identity.”

The 81 per cent figure, however, consists of both “the highly-secular who are often found to be relatively educated and liberal” and “those reporting a religious affiliation who do not attend [church]”. When separating the two groups, the researchers report that the proportion of those who believe that immigration should be reduced is 77.3 per cent among people “with no religion”; 83.9 per cent among people who are affiliated to a denomination but attend less than monthly; and 69.7 per cent among those who are affiliated but attend more than monthly.

The report says that, among those who identify as “Church of England”, the proportion who think that immigration should be reduced is 87.6 per cent. It does not state how frequently that group attends church.

“Anglican affiliation predicted lower tolerance than having no religious affiliation,” it says. “However, religious practice predicted higher tolerance: the ‘Anglican in name only’ were very different to those who actively practised.”

Dr Siobhan McAndrew, of the University of Bristol’s sociology department, told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme that “for many people, identifying as Anglican is associated with a sort of Christian nationalist identity, and that is a way of signalling loyalty and identification with a more traditional form of Britain, and perhaps England as well. . . Perhaps it’s signalling resistance to cosmopolitanism, towards liberal norms and liberal types of behaviour.”

She added that researchers are “not entirely sure” what it is about going to church regularly that makes them more tolerant of immigration.

“It could be that they meet more immigrants at church, it could be that they perceive that they are being judged more closely by a deity, it could be that they get involved in voluntary activity and civic action locally, and that brings them into contact with diverse people, and that changes their attitude slightly.”

The Bishop of Loughborough, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who fled Iran with her family when she was 14, said that the Church did not have a “great history” when it came to immigration.

Dr Francis-Dehqani told the BBC: “We still have a long way to go in order to enable, to help, to educate congregations to be able to express a fuller welcome to those who both enter our churches and come to our country.”

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