While Republican presidential candidates vie to take the harshest stance on immigration into the United States, the president of evangelical Christian Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., Joseph Castleberry, preaches a vastly different philosophy of embracing immigrants, citing that Jesus himself was one. However, it's important to note the higher education administrator has personal reasons to promote this topic: his daughter married a Mexican American, and he authored a new book entitled "The New Pilgrims: How Immigrants are Renewing America's Faith."
Castleberry, a conservative who said he counts Ronald Reagan as one of his political heroes, is a 55-year-old white Republican who unabashedly supports immigrants because of the spiritual, cultural and economic revitalization he said they bring to the United States, reports The Seattle Times.
He is being considered an anomaly this political season, after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump keeps talking about wanting to build "a great wall" to stop Mexico from sending rapists and criminals here, and who also proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Castleberry contends there's nothing inherently anti-immigrant about conservatism, and certainly not about evangelicalism. He strikes out at "nativist" rhetoric, as he calls it, in his book, "The New Pilgrims," released last fall in English and Spanish.
He aimed the book at conservative audiences and lucked out in terms of timing, reports The Seattle Times. He said he had no idea the issue was going to be as hot as it was.
More than 70 talk-radio programs, Fox News and various other TV outlets, recently have interviewed Castleberry. He also has been speaking at churches and Rotary clubs, according to The Seattle Times.
"Who is doing the greater danger to the rule of law?" he asked at a luncheon this week. "Immigrants? Or a Congress who knows the system is broken and won't fix the laws or enforce them?"
Through intermarriage, Castleberry said, immigrants infuse the culture with their family values, tempering an individualism that "tends to get out of control in America."
They are also more likely to start businesses than native-born Americans, he asserts, "whether they be eBay and Google or the local taco truck." (eBay was started by French-born Pierre Omidyar, and Russian immigrant Sergey Brin co-founded Google.)
He writes admiringly about immigrant churches such as the 1,500-strong, Spanish-language Centro de Vida church in Tacoma. Castleberry speaks there regularly, in Spanish.
"He says that Jesus himself was an immigrant," laughed Peruvian-born senior pastor Roberto Tejada.
Chairman of the University of Washington's comparative religion program, James Wellman, and a onetime fellow divinity student with Castleberry at Princeton University, agrees that Pentecostalism has been growing in Latin America and Africa.
"Many Pentecostals have a broader and deeper commitment to equality than most liberal Protestants," said Wellman, who authored the 2008 book "Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest." He noted that liberal Protestantism is a mainly "white movement."
"It's not a fixed law of nature that immigrants have to become Democrats," Castleberry reminds. He noted, like Republican analysts after the 2012 election, that many immigrants are socially conservative.
Castleberry said he isn't trying to get evangelicals into politics, but that he is trying to change hearts and minds.