The Crossroads of Outreach and Immigration
Other conservative Christian leaders like Phyllis Schlafly and Tony Perkins have also opposed any immigration reform plan that includes “amnesty.” They each argue that to stand against amnesty is to fight for the rule of law and for American cultural identity, not to be prejudiced.
But many evangelicals, particularly Hispanic Christians, have suggested that a stance that puts such a high value on a normative “cultural fabric” is at best unmeaning xenophobia and at worst an ethnocentric racism.
Many point out that the rhetoric about strengthening borders, or any kind of program that favors deportation (which even conservative leaders like Richard Land have opposed), can be harsh and seem to lack compassion for the millions of undocumented workers already in the United States.
From the silent to the vocal
In a 2010 Pew Research survey, only 16 percent of white evangelicals said their clergy spoke out about immigration, and only 12 percent of the same group said their religion is the biggest influence on how they think about immigration reform. It seems that for a long time evangelicals remained on the sidelines of the national conversation.
But then, last summer, more than 150 evangelical leaders signed a resolution that calls on the United States to have a more compassionate stance toward illegal immigrants, including a path to legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents. The statement was signed by Christian leaders ranging from Jim Wallis of Sojourners to Jim Daly of Focus on the Family.
So what happened? How did evangelicals go from remaining mostly silent on the issue of immigration to becoming some of the loudest proponents of reform?
Well, simply put, it’s because the laws were changing around them with no input from evangelical leaders.
In 2005 and 2006, there were proposed laws in front of Congress that may have made it a crime to provide assistance and charity to those who were known to be illegal residents. And in 2011, Arizona and Alabama passed strict anti-illegal immigration laws, which have been problematic for many evangelical leaders.
“One of the most troubling elements of those laws for many churches has been elements of the law that could reasonably be interpreted to criminalize the transportation of an undocumented immigrant,” says Matthew Soerens, U.S. Church Training Specialist at World Relief. “Some churches, citing Romans 13’s injunctions to be subject to governing authorities, have decided they won’t pick people up and bring them to church in order to comply with the law. Others have decided that, like when Peter was told to stop preaching the gospel, this is a time when ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).”
Those political conversations seemed to have spurred evangelical leaders to ask some basic questions about compassion and “welcoming the stranger” when it comes to immigration.