Let a hundred churches bloom

For Independence Day, I pause to consider religious freedom and immigration.

I recently made some trips out New Hampshire Ave., in Montgomery County, MD. In a 9-mile stretch of road (including a turn off onto the road where my kids’ summer camp was), here is some of what I saw:

Muslim Community Center
St. Andrew Ukranian Orthodox Cathedral
Iglesia de Dios / Church of God
First Alliance Church
Transfiguration Church Episcopal Anglican
Eun Sam Evangelical Church of Washington
Colesville Baptist Church
Colesville Presbyterian Church
New Hampshire Avenue Gospel Chapel
Our Lady of Vietnam Parish
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
Lutheran Church of St. Andrew
Lord’s Prayer Presbyterian Church
St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church
Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring
New Life Baptist Church
Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church
Heritage Christian Church
Iglesia Adventista

I counted about 30 houses of worship along what some people call the Highway to Heaven. Through some combination of immigration and residential settlement patterns, real estate and zoning conditions, and county tax exemptions, this neighborhood has become an extreme hotbed of religious centers.

I imagine that this kind of eclectic, diverse, religious cacophony is uniquely American, but maybe that’s not true. Anyway, there is something about all this post-modern pre-modernity that I get a kick out of.

Montgomery County, which abuts Washington, D.C., is a major urban suburb, with a million people. Not all those churches are filled with immigrants, but many of them are. In the county, 32% of the population is foreign-born, according to the 2010 American Community Survey (table B05006). Talk about diversity, here are the top 50 – out of 122 – countries of origin for residents of the county, color-coded by region (click to enlarge):

Montgomery County, Maryland, immigrants, by country of origin (top 50 countries, 88% of all immigrants shown).

Immigrants tip the county’s numbers toward the “traditional” side of the ledger in terms of marriage and family structure: 60% of immigrants here are married, compared with 49% of the U.S.-born adults (B06008); and 51% of immigrant kids live with both parents, compared with 46% of the natives (B05009). But their religious and cultural diversity push the county toward the less-traditional future, ethnicity-wise.

Good site for some research, I reckon.

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