Open hearts, closed doors : native Protestants, pluralism, and the "foreigner" in America, 1924-1965.


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At the turn of the twentieth century, leading white Protestant denominations sponsored vigorous home mission work among immigrant communities in the United States. As the century progressed, these programs, often conducted by women and occasionally by immigrants themselves, blended progressive social gospel ideals, such as the brotherhood of man, with traditional evangelistic goals. This diffusion of the social gospel among Protestant believers helped temper nativist sentiments inherited from the nineteenth century. While home missions among immigrants and ethnic Americans focused on spiritual edification, these ministries also reinforced American citizenship and culture. Home missionaries often promoted an “American Way of Life,” while simultaneously tolerating diverse immigrant cultures. Some Protestants grew more comfortable with cultural pluralism by midcentury, while remaining reluctant to embrace a religious pluralism that would replace their vision of a Protestant Christian nation. Many Protestant leaders, often holding positions in the Federal/National Council of Churches, also promoted immigration policy reform. During the four decades following the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924, progressive Protestants worked to overturn Asian exclusion and, by the 1950s, to challenge discriminatory quotas against eastern and southern Europeans. Through frequent communication with political representatives and testimony before congressional committee hearings, Protestants advocated a more liberal immigration system and encouraged refugee resettlement. Such efforts often put progressive, ecumenical figures at odds with more conservative Christians and anti-communist crusaders. Immigration reform eventually came to fruition in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act that overturned the national origins quota system. Though not cognizant of it at the time, Protestant leaders helped pave the way for increasing immigration reflecting more diverse nationalities and faiths. By the end of the twentieth century, mainline Protestantism’s historic preeminence in American society began to wane, due in part to an increasing acknowledgement of religious pluralism in the United States. Through their developing support for cultural pluralism and their persistence in promoting a Christian nation, native Protestants arrived at a pluralistic bargain with immigration. Such an arrangement helped reconfigure U.S. society and culture by the twenty-first century.



American religion. Pluralism. Protestants. Immigration. Refugees.