Last Thursday, after so much grueling debate and a tough amendments process, the Senate passed a comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. Now the bill moves from the grown-ups to the children in the Legislature, the House of Representatives, where Republicans are already playing politics with the issue, most likely thinking it will just magically “go away” like other reform attempts have.
But, the New York Times published a great article about how the pressures on the House are different this time. It was really encouraging.
The encouragement did not just come from Immigration Reform’s potential, but where Evangelicals have found themselves in the debate. In the article, there were these amazing lines:
Asked why he thought the overhaul had a fighting chance in the House, Ali Noorani, a veteran of many immigration wars, pointed to a big green mobile billboard that had circled Capitol Hill every day this week.
Its flashing message was “Praying for immigrants. Praying for Congress.” Groups of evangelical Christians prayed on the Capitol lawn for the Senate to pass its bill. Mr. Noorani’s group, the National Immigration Forum, has worked with Southern Baptists and other large evangelical denominations to coordinate prayer campaigns and run pro-overhaul spots on Christian radio stations in states where lawmakers might be persuaded to change their views.
“In 2007, we weren’t even on the radar,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodríguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an evangelical group. Mr. Rodríguez said he had been on the road continuously, addressing primarily non-Hispanic Christian conferences to spread the message on the overhaul.
Now, you may be an Evangelical and may be thinking “hey, I don’t agree with that bill!”. That’s not really my point. Evangelicalism has never been as monolithic or homogenous as many of its leaders have wanted it to be. I am under no illusion that all (or even most) Evangelicals find themselves actually agreeing with the Senate reform plan.
What’s more astonishing to me is that regardless of the nuances and complexities of thought among Evangelicals on this issue, this is the reputation Evangelicals are having in this discussion. This is what the wider world sees. This is what has been noted in America’s paper of record as the primary takeaway that the world needs to have when fitting in the force of Evangelicalism and Christianity into the broader narrative of this story.
Of the many forces this article talks about that push this discussion forward (religious, electoral, business, labour, etc.), I love that American Christians have the pride of place here as the first “force” listed.
For once, Evangelicals are being known for taking the lead in actual cultural change and not stalwart reactiveness to the force around them.
Yes, I know there are other potential factors: many Evangelicals might be more concerned with maintaining Republican dominance by “winning Hispanic votes” through this effort. Some may be reacting to their own demographic changes in the South, instead of their own heart and theological changes.
But still, it’s telling that none of these alternative narratives are offered in this piece.
I am certainly not one of those Christian twentysomethings that think that theological convictions have no place in one’s political beliefs, nor do I think that “laws” are inherently morally-neutral. All politics and legislation reflects one’s morality (just look at a nation’s wallet to see where their heart is) and, ultimately, their theological convictions. For once, I’m proud of American Christians as they interact politically on this issue.
As Christians, we are called to love Neighbor before Nation. Whatever “damage” you think these poor, marginalized people do to America economically, politically, or demographically, we are called to have more concern for their welfare than the welfare of the abstract idea of “our country”.
That’s not to say that illegal immigrants are not “breaking laws”, but as Christians we are not called to primarily relate to others based how obedient they have been to civil authorities or not. The main thing that dictates how we relate to them is the image of God in which they are made. And this has been sorely lacking in the Evangelical presence in this discussion.
There are few–if any–illegal immigrants that come to this nation with any malice in their heart or hostility in their intentions. At the very least, they deserve compassion before condemnation–especially from Christians. Even if you ultimately think they should legally be carted away, should not the first concern of Christians be to love them? Or at least not demonize them?
Illegal immigrants in America are some of the closest we’ll ever get to a single group that fits almost every criteria for those to whom Christian should offer support, deference, protection, and resources: the outcast, foreigner, poor, needy, alien, outsider, downtrodden, despised, and poor in spirit.
Supporting immigration reform is the easiest way that I can think of, in our current political situation, for Christians to follow-through with this oft-neglected dynamic of Christian faith. It’s one of the clearest ways that Christians can act “Christianly” in a direct, political way.
So learn about the bill, contact your representatives, and then pray for our leaders and those who will be most affected by their actions. And then go out and try love your neighbor some.
What do you think about the immigration bill? How does your faith guide this decision? How do you feel about Christians being known for this advocacy?
[image: “Barbed Liberty” by myself]
2 thoughts on “Evangelicals on Immigration: finally doing something right.”
This issue has become a political football because that’s exactly what the political parties want it to be. When considering the big picture of immigration, Christians should be the ones with the best position, as you’ve rightly observed. However, any pushback coming from the evangelical community is probably directed more towards the efforts and assumed intentions of the political parties than towards the immigrants themselves.
Like you, I assume that nearly all of those who come here and wish to come here don’t have any inclination of causing problems in our country. I also know that coming here legally is an arduous process and that those who “need” to come here for financial reasons have neither the money nor the time to go through that process. Another assumption is that whichever political party gets credit for helping these people will also win their votes at the ballot box.
The struggle for civil rights was started by Republicans, who fought and suffered with African-Americans for a century. Along came Kennedy and Johnson, who saw the potential political windfall, and all of a sudden, civil rights and desegregation became law. Now, because of those two Democrats joining with Republicans on the issue that led to the founding of the Republican party, African-Americans have become a nearly monolithic voting block for the Democrats. Can you blame Republicans for being wary of the same thing happening with Hispanics?
If you really want to see progress, remove the one variable that’s creating the problem. Take the ballot box out of the picture. Anyone who receives “amnesty” or whatever it’ll be called, should not be allowed to register to vote for a predetermined length of time. It could be as short as 10 years or as long as forever. It seems that most of these people have come here for the simple reason that the economies in their own countries can’t support them and their families and they’re simply looking for prosperity. Most of them don’t make the effort to join our “melting pot” and even have plans of returning home someday. In that case, they have no reason to be involved in our democratic process. In fact, unless you’re born here or you’re willing to go through the naturalization procedure, you shouldn’t even expect the right to vote.
So, as a Christian evangelical, I agree with you that we’re the most sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and are the most sincere in our efforts to help them. However, we’re also most likely to be the ones who are quick to recognize a wolf in a sheepskin so don’t blame anyone if they’re a little wary of someone trying to make political hay out of the debate.
Lenny, that is such a good idea! That really would take a lot of the politics out of this, show the politicians’ true colors, and (for once) actually make a lot of sense. Thanks for the comment!