The Church, Immigration, and Advocacy

As I also wrote about last summer, August 15th marked an important change in immigration policy, when young adults without official documentation were able to apply for two-year stays in the country, without fear of deportation. Today we also face the possibility of a significant change to the system.  A bipartisan “Gang of 8” proposal for immigration reform was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill, which heads to the Senate next week, will provide a path to legalization and citizenship for a number of immigrants living in the country, as well as tighten security.

Immigration is an issue where most in the United States see a need to act. A recent Pew Report reveals that almost ¾ of U.S citizens polled think there should be legal options for those without legal status to stay.  Most identify it as a key issue facing the country.  At this time when significant reforms could be enacted, the voices of religious leaders are especially important.

The video above was produced by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of evangelicals and other religious activists. They  have received some recent attention in the news for their calls (and prayers) for bipartisan reform.  While I’m quite disappointed by the fact that the heads of the coalition are all male, there is a diversity of political leanings and racial make-up of the actors and organizations behind the movement.    Yet even as evangelicals are now engaged, other religious leaders have long been active in efforts to support immigrants in the United States. I’m particularly excited to read Grace Yukich’s forthcoming book, One Family Under God (Oxford University Press), which focuses on more progressive religious activities who are often not profiled. While white evangelicals tend to be noticeably absent from the activists she studies, many of the religious concepts these actors use could resonate with many in the evangelical population.









I increasingly encounter evangelicals considering (or involved in the process of) international adoption.  A majority of my students—mostly evangelical—have been abroad and involved with mission trips. As Christians continue to go around the world to love our neighbors, it’s imperative that we also more seriously consider what it means to love neighbors here in the United State. As this group that increasingly includes immigrants (documented and undocumented), the issue of immigration reform will impact the lives of millions.  Even for the most politically uninterested, this is an issue that demands our attention, prayers, and action.

Liberal Women Wish for More Sex. Why?

OK, I’ve been at it again, meaning that I’ve been exploring associations between various measures in the New Family Structures Study (the NFSS). I realize I’ve treated readers to blog entries like this before, including here, here, and here, but I can’t help myself. Such are social science data nerds. I’ve come across another puzzle worth sharing with you.

At the risk of sounding blunt, crass, and insensitive, the NFSS data clearly reveal that—for whatever reason—more politically liberal 18-39-year-old women report wanting more sex than they’ve been having. (No such association appears among men. In keeping with nearly all research on sexuality and gender, men display less variance on most matters sexual.)

Here’s how we know. The NFSS posed this question to respondents:

Are you content with the amount of sex you are having?

Respondents could answer in one of three ways: (1) Yes; (2) No, I’d prefer more; or (3) No, I’d prefer less. Now, before you throw around claims of misogyny, take some comfort in knowing that I don’t think answer #3 is somehow inherently more correct than #2. Good grief. My job here is interpretation.

Here are the simple numbers: 16% of “very conservative” women say they’d prefer more, compared with 29% of conservative women, 31% of moderates, 47% of liberals, and 50% of “very liberal” women.

It’s generally linear, with the most notable bump between moderates and liberals. More politically-liberal women are quite clearly apt to say they’d prefer more.


And, remarkably, it isn’t much affected by how much sex they’ve actually had recently. That is, while greater recent frequency of sex predicts less desire for more sex, it does nothing to diminish the link between political liberalism and wanting more sex. And women of all political stripes report statistically-comparable frequency of sex.

In regression models, the measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use. Many of these are significant predictors of wanting more sex. And still the political thing matters.

I realize I’m a geek for statistics in this domain, but that is interesting, and begs for interpretation. I’ve said elsewhere—in Chapter 6 of my second book and blogged about here, here, and here—that measures of political conservatism or liberalism are clearly reflecting more than just Republican or Democratic Party affiliation or voting habits. No, they’re about people’s embedded-ness in distinctive worldviews and sets of meanings.

With regard to sex and sexuality, being more liberal means being more likely to value sexual expression as a good-in-itself, not only a means to an end or contingent on the context (such as being in a relationship, or being married). Talk of “sexual health” is also more common among them and typically assumes acts of sexual expression. In this perspective, persons have almost a moral obligation to express their sexuality in actions of their own choosing; pleasure is reached for, and should be. Sexual expression among them is perceived in personal terms at least as much as it is in relational ones (I’m thinking of how people talk about their sex life.) Note, for example, how the Lena Dunham political ad mightily aggravated conservative sentiments about sexuality. Obama twentysomethings generally thought it was clever and cute.

All that may be true, but I’m still not sure it explains why liberal women want more sex, regardless of how much they’re already having.

I floated this to a female friend, an economist, who offered this four-part theory:

1. More liberal women are less likely to be religious. (In the NFSS and other datasets, she’s correct in this).

2. Given that, more liberal women are therefore more likely to have a difficult time attributing transcendent value to aspects of life such as their work, relationships, children, and daily tasks. Some scholars speak of this as “sanctifying daily life.” In other words, liberal women are less apt to conceive of mundane, material life as imbued with or reflecting the sacred.

3. Nevertheless, most people experience sexual expression as–in some significant way–transcendent, or higher-than-other-experiences.

4. More liberal women therefore want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life. If sex is one of the few pathways to it, then it’s sensible to desire more of it.

Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion. (A data-less argument of sorts toward that end was serendipitously made on yesterday.)

So I added religious service attendance to the regression model described earlier, predicting wanting more sex, and—wouldn’t you know it—political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor. Barely.

Other theories are welcome…


Democrats: Losing their Religion

It’s election week, and we’re inundated with polls, predictions, and predilections, so I’ll keep this short. While I was crunching NFSS data for an unrelated set of analyses, I stopped to dwell on an interesting survey question on perceived change in religiousness. We asked the 2,988 respondents:

Compared to today, were you more or less active in organized religion when you were growing up?

Given that we’re talking to 18-39-year-olds, and that young adulthood can often exhibit a notable decline in religiousness—something I’ve written about more extensively here and here—and that former US senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum misinterpreted here, it’s of course not at all surprising to see that most respondents said they were less active in organized religion now than when they were growing up. Fully 53 percent said that, whereas 34 percent said they were “about the same” and 13 percent reported being “more active” than when they were younger. But what aggravates these numbers in either direction?

My first guess is that age and marriage are apt to boost religiosity in some who had been flagging, while sexual “deviance” (from religious expectations about it) can cause it to lag some. Keep in mind, of course, that the question begs an unknown answer about just how religious respondents were when they were “growing up,” so a “more active” or a “less active” response is connected to a level known to them, but not to us. So be it. It’s still illuminating: only 8 percent of the youngest group (18-23-year-olds) reported becoming more religiously active, compared with 13 and 18 percent of the older two groups (24-32 and 33-39-year-olds, respectively). Makes sense.

Both married and divorced respondents reported comparable levels of growing religiousness, at 18-19 percent, while 63 percent of cohabiters said they had become less religious.

The most dramatic shifts, however, appear around personal politics. Political affiliation—a one measure, 1-5 scale of just how politically conservative or liberal our respondents consider themselves—takes the cake for shifting the bar on perceived growth or decline in organized religious involvement. Only 23 percent of respondents who said they were “very conservative” politically reported being less active in organized religion today, while 31 percent said they were more active than as a youth. Keep in mind that’s compared with 53 and 13 percent of the total population, respectively.

It’s a linear association, too: 48 percent of just plain “conservative” respondents reported being less active religiously, compared with 52 percent of moderates, 62 percent of those who said they were “liberal” and 76 percent of those who self-identified as “very liberal.” That’s quite a span–from 23 percent (among the most conservative) to 76 percent (among the most liberal).

The Democrats truly are losing their religion. Or perhaps these are persons who lost their religion and then decided the Democratic Party seemed most in line with their sentiments. There is probably plenty of both types.

This is not new news, I know. See here. But it’s heartwarming and confirming to me to see the NFSS data continue to make rational sense in so many domains of research questions, even while critics remain convinced that I got the basic story wrong in the July Social Science Research article on the adult children of parents who’ve had same-sex relationships. (I didn’t.)

Happy voting…



Why “Fact Checking” Falls Short

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but “fact checking” this election season seems to have reached a fever pitch. This despite the historically weak tie between facts and politics in general, it would seem. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to it, given the word-by-word scrutiny to which my own work and media interviews have been subject recently. (Not that the media would ever misquote someone…)

But after “lecturing” to a class of 12-year-olds yesterday on some themes in the book of Exodus, I am reminded again of the difference between moderns’ assumptions about detailed history–what we often mean by “the facts”–and historiography, the telling of history over time and from particular perspectives. Moreover, the former is not very easy to accomplish, and always, always misses material and meanings. It’s partial by definition. This came to mind when I briefly noted to the class that Exodus 1:6 simply states, “Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation.” The author (or authors/redactors) of that text clearly was not interested in conveying the details of the aging and death of the sons of Jacob–indeed, most of their lives and that of their children and their families–but rather with the rise of Moses and the Mosaic Law, from the perspective of those under it. So they paid some things no attention. So be it. (Then you have the lengthy lineages found in a variety of places in the Pentateuch, where we moderns feel like they paid too much attention to detail.)

People are often tempted to think that such a peculiar way of doing history is flawed, but in reality all accounts of “news” or “facts” are perspectival and partial. There is what actually happened–if it can be known–and then there’s the teller, who is a complex person (or organization) with interests, by default. There’s a philosophy of history embedded in all history writing, and indeed even in all news media. In a world increasingly short on attention span but long on bandwidth, this should only grow more familiar to us, not less. Take, for a recent example, the recent death of our Libyan ambassador. There are the facts, and frankly they may never be known with certainty, not simply because some people “won’t tell,” but because eyewitnesses saw different content and perceived different meanings, and have complex interests in relating “the facts” to those different sorts of persons (with quite different interests) who ask them. Add to that the untimely occurrence of this in an election season, and Senate and/or House hearings on the matter, and political sabre-rattling, and you can see how layers of interpretation are added.

And yet we still speak glowingly of “the facts.” In the Era of Science, we sense somehow that facts are always knowable. We presume someone is guardian of The Truth About Things.

This is normal behavior. What’s not normal, because it’s not really possibly in a strong way, is to have a very good grasp of “all the facts.” What’s relevant, after all? Even what counts (or is ignored) as evidence is constituted by particular perspectives. A recent critic of mine suspects I have been directly aiding the Romney campaign, but I’m not sure that the utter lack of evidence will convince them that I am not. To the critic, it’s simply evidence that my aid is more clandestine and thus I am even more suspect.

So it’s often an unrealistic challenge to learn all the facts about events that have already occurred, even recent ones, let alone those that have not. So “fact-checking” presidential candidates and their promises, budgets, plans, etc., is almost a joke. Almost. Moreover, to flippantly accuse one of them (but not the other) of lying–a ubiquitous occurrence of late–is to misunderstand all this.

It would behoove us all in this election season to understand that all politics involves some deceptions, and that human memory fails, and that people misspeak. We ought to remember that the public will always dislike “the facts” if they were all laid bare (and in today’s world, more are laid bare than ever before). This is true about most any of us, for that matter. Let’s be grateful that our thoughts–and for many, their words and actions–aren’t always an open book. We are flawed persons electing flawed candidates who will no doubt run flawed administrations. The two candidates for highest office have quite different philosophies on governance, rights, goods, economics, the role of the State, etc. (and probably most importantly, very different teams of trusted advisors and assistants). Vote on those. Not on some wistful idea of honesty and commitment to “the facts.” Politics has never dealt deeply in that.