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Evangelical Christians prepare for ‘largest ever grassroots push on immigration’
January 12th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

Evangelical Christians prepare for ‘largest ever grassroots push on immigration’

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – When the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez talks about immigration, it is as someone who has witnessed the way a religious community is affected when a family is torn apart by deportation.

“It is personal for me,” Rodriguez said, describing deported friends and congregants as "lovely people. These are wonderful, God-fearing, family-loving people.”

Rodriguez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has a naturally boisterous voice that booms with authority. When he speaks about immigration, passion oozes out of every syllable. But his voice softens as he speaks of those close to him who have been deported: an associate pastor's wife, a friend from Sacramento, California, a well-known congregant - the list seems committed to memory.

Even as he relives the heartache, the pastor seems hopeful, if not optimistic.

Rodriguez, along with a number of other high-profile evangelical leaders, many of whom who have worked on immigration reform for decades, are betting that 2013 represents the best opportunity they've ever had to get meaningful reforms passed. Proof of their confidence: A coalition of evangelical groups is launching what many are calling the “largest ever grass-roots push on immigration.”

“We have a moral imperative to act,” Rodriguez exclaims. “This is the year. This is the evangelical hour to lead in a justice issue.”

In the mind of many evangelical leaders, the reverend is right.

Betting on 2013

The coalition is called the Evangelical Immigration Table and it is brought together a diverse mix of evangelical groups, including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners and Focus on the Family.

Though the groups began holding broader discussion two years ago, Monday will serve as the campaign's first concerted push on immigration, with the goal of getting meaningful immigration reform through Congress in 2013.

“I think we have a window of opportunity in these first months of 2013,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told CNN. “I think there is a real, new conversation on immigration reform.”

That window, Land acknowledges, is small and could close at any point. Congress has a number of issues to deal with in the coming year; Republican members of Congress hope to focus on government spending and the debt, while the White House is likely to push for gun control early in the president’s second term.

Land, however, says that isn’t an excuse.

“I am hopeful that Congress can walk and chew gum and the same time,” Land said. “I am hopeful they can deal with more than one issue at the same time.”

The group has already released an open letter to Congress and the White House. In it, they the group presses Congress to respect “the God-given dignity of every person” and establish a “path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.”

“As evangelical leaders, we live every day with the reality that our immigration system doesn’t reflect our commitment to the values of human dignity, family unity and respect for the rule of law that define us as Americans,” the letter states. “Initiatives by both parties to advance commonsense fixes to our immigration policies have stalled in years past.”

Since the group's launch last June, organizers have been fundraising and placing people in three states,  Colorado, Florida and Texas, to lay the groundwork with local evangelical leaders and politicians. By making these early investments, coalition leaders hope there will be a highly reactive group of evangelicals ready to push for immigration reform.

In addition to local networking, these evangelical leaders have begun lobbying leaders in both the U.S. House and Senate and plan to do more “grass-roots lobbying,” including bringing people to Capitol Hill in the future.

According to Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners and a leader in the coalition, the group has met with “top-level White House officials” as well as Democratic and Republican leaders "from Chuck Schumer to Lindsey Graham."

“Immigration reform, fixing this broken system, has a chance of being the first thing, maybe the one thing, that I think could really be accomplished in a bipartisan way,” Wallis said. “Courageous, bold, bipartisan decisions that do the right thing are not real common (in Washington), but I think this is really possible now.”

Making the focus biblical

For Richard Land and other coalition leaders, this is not just a moral issue, it is also biblical.

“For those of us who are people of faith, these are issues that our faith informs,” Land said. “For us, this is an issue that is rending the social fabric of the nation and causing a great deal of human suffering. As people of faith, we need to address it.”

The campaign will release a video on Monday that features more than a dozen evangelical leaders reading the text of Matthew 25:31-46.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him…” reads Max Lucado, a well-known evangelical pastor and author.

“He will sit on his glorious throne, all the nations gathered before him…” continues John Perkins, an evangelical author and speaker.

The video continues this way for more than two minutes, evangelical leader after evangelical leader reading a biblical text that stresses the importance of helping “a stranger.”

“'For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me,'” Jesus says, describing the Final Judgment. “'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”

In addition to the video's release, the coalition organizers have asked local leaders to encourage their congregations to take the “I Was a Stranger Challenge.” Those who take the challenge will receive daily verses of scripture that might apply to the immigration issue – with the hope that they will use them in prayer – and a “Toolkit” to help spread the word on the need for immigration reform.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” reads the first text, citing Genesis 1:27.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands,” reads the last text, citing Revelation 7:9.

Pastors are also being urged to use their sermons to speak about the need to help "strangers" and relate immigration reform to Christian values.

In total, the organizers believe the campaign will reach more than 100,000 churches.

“Evangelicals have been converted by the Bible and by Jesus on the issue of welcoming strangers,” Wallis said. “It is very clear if you go around the country, this is a conversion here. It is a biblical conversion. What Jesus says is the way you treat the stranger is the way you treat me.”

‘The right thing for the wrong reasons’

Coalition leaders also see the 2012 election results, particularly the fact that Republican nominee Mitt Romney struggled mightily among Hispanic voters, as a powerful tool they can use against reluctant politicians. Land, who has long counseled Republican presidents on religious issues, says he plans to use the 2012 election to his favor when talking to legislators.

“We plan to point out that if the GOP ... wants to be a viable national party in the future, then it is going to have to get more Hispanic votes then it did in the last election,” Land said. When asked if he is comfortable with getting immigration reform passed by using political and election bargaining, Land laughed.

“Maybe [the Republican Party] should do the right thing for the wrong reasons,” he said.

But Republicans are not the only group faced with changing demographics. Evangelical Christians, too, are seeing the makeup of their churches change drastically.

Nearly one-fifth (19%) of Hispanics in the United States identify as Protestant, a Pew Research study found in 2012. On top of that, Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to say they are “born again” or evangelical as opposed to mainline Protestant.

Though Hispanics are still more likely to identify as Catholic – 62% do so, according to Pew – evangelical leaders say they see signs that the number of Hispanics in their churches will only grow in the future.

“The growth in most of our churches is because of immigration. That is the future of our churches,” Wallis said matter-of-factly.

That change is evidenced in the ethnic makeup of the coalition’s leadership. Luis Cortés, president of the evangelical group Esperanza, Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, all signed on to the group early. Additionally, many of the local pastors are from primarily Hispanic churches.

Wallis concludes: “This is our growth, these are out brothers and sisters. We are a diverse body of Christ, we are a very diverse community. This is our family and this is our future.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Immigration • Latino issues • Protestant • Race

soundoff (1,205 Responses)
  1. Steve Finnell

    FACT OR FICTION?

    Is everything you have been taught about Christianity fact or has there been a lot of fiction presented as Biblical truth?

    Here are some doctrinal positions, are they fact or fiction?

    1. The New Covenant was in force during the three year ministry of Jesus. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction.

    Hebrews 9:16-17 where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

    The New Covenant was not in force while Jesus was alive.

    2. The apostle Peter used the keys to the kingdom heaven (the keys to enter the church of Christ) before the Day of Pentecost. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction.

    Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven....

    Luke 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.

    The apostle Peter first used the keys to enter the Lord's church, at Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost. Three thousand entered the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom of God on earth is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The three thousand who were saved and added to the church of Christ on the Day of Pentecost believed that God raised Jesus from the dead and that Jesus was was both Lord and Christ. They repented and were immersed in water so they could have their sins forgiven and then they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:22-41) They were saved under the New Covenant terms of pardon.

    3. The thief on the cross was saved from the punishment of his sins. Fact or Fiction? That would be a fact.

    4. Men today can be saved just like the thief on the cross. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. The thief was not saved under the New Testament terms of pardon.

    The thief did believe in his heart that Jesus had been resurrected from the grave. (Romans 10:9 that is you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.)

    The thief was not immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins. (Acts 2:38 ...be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...)

    5. Moses, Elijah, Job, Enoch, Abraham and Noah were all men of faith and saved . Fact or Fiction? That would be a fact.

    6. Men living today can be saved just like Moses, Elijah, Job, Abraham, and Noah. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. These men lived and died before the New covenant was in effect.
    Men, today, can only be saved by believing in Jesus. (Acts 4:10-12, John 14:6)

    7. Jesus did not say baptism was essential in order to be saved. Fact or Fiction? That would fiction.

    Jesus said "and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16)

    8. Peter and the apostles never taught water baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. Fact or Fiction. That would be fiction. (Acts 2:37-38)

    9. Men are added to the body of Christ before they are baptized in water. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. (Acts 2:41)

    10. Saul was saved on the road to Damascus before his sins were forgiven. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. Men cannot be saved without having their sins forgiven. Saul had had his sins forgiven three days later, when he was in Damascus, not on the road to Damascus. (Acts 22:16)(Acts 9:9)

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. http:/steve-finnell.blogspot.com

    October 19, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  2. Sang Rathai

    I'd like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this site. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content from you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal website now ;)

    March 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  3. Brian

    A racist like Richard Land wanting to work on immigration for non-white people? That's hard to believe.

    January 29, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  4. mo

    "In the mind of many evangelical leaders, the reverend is right."

    No, he is not! I am sick and tired of supposed (and even genuine) Christians telling the world that the Bible supports people BREAKING THE LAW to come here illegally, live here illegally and take advantage of tax-paying citizens, ILLEGALLY!

    What a slap in the face to countless people who have waited for YEARS and spent untold amounts of money to come here the proper, legal way!

    January 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  5. John

    The "stranger" referred to (least of these my brothers) is a fellow Christian. The verse refers to private benevolence within the Christian community, not a political mandate to suspend the rule of law with respect to immigration.

    The strangers mentioned in the Old Testament, to be welcomed, were foreigners who agreed to abide by the laws of Israel. Ancient Israel was under no madate to dissove itself into multicutural anarchy–and neither is our country.

    The religious leaders who promote amnesty for illegal aliens, i.e., rewarding lawbreakers with U.S. citizenship are not serving God. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are undermining their country for the benefit of ethnic chauvinsts, cheap labor interests, and left-wing politicians who seek cheap votes.

    January 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Orca

      Agreed. Well said John!

      January 16, 2013 at 3:31 am |
    • mo

      @ John –

      Yes! Why doesn't anyone seem to get this?!

      January 16, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  6. Nick Meron

    This is long overdue. Beginning with Abraham's covenant and the Law of Moses, God's people have been called to show love to aliens. The evangelical church has long been behind the curve on this due to the so-called "Christian Right" agenda.
    Immigration reform is about economics and security, as well as morality: economics, because the economy provides jobs and demands currently "illegal" workers, so we should find a way to legalize them and bring in the required labor legally going forward. Security, because if we can get most of our immigrants to come through the door, there will be far fewer crossing the desert or stowed away in ships, and it will be far easier to ID and stop the drug mules and terrorists.
    Legal immigrants ultimately cost the system less, pay more in taxes, and allow ICE and law enforcement to focus on real threats.

    January 15, 2013 at 6:08 am |
    • NatL

      "Aliens" like the Canaanites? You all can keep that kind of "Love".

      January 15, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Orca

      Nick moron wake up and free yourself from the Matrix

      January 16, 2013 at 3:33 am |
    • Radio Free Kansas

      You're right, it's an economic issue. In 2008 when the "Great Recession" started there were an estimated 18 to 22 MILLION illigals here. When the economy soured alot of them went home. There are still an estimated 7 MILLION in jobs that our citizens could be doing. With the unemployment rate still hovering around 8 to 8.5 % this has been a mostly jobless "recovery", if you can call it that. Big Business wants illigals here to drive down wages and benefits, paying them cash under the table. They don't pay taxes. "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" is just a fancy way of saying Amnesty. Reagan did it in the '80's; Clinton in the '90's, both resulting in a massive influx of more illigals. Reform needs to start with making the E-varify system manditory for all businesses and securing our borders.

      January 18, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  7. John P. Tarver

    I think these Catholics should be targeted directly at the atheist stong holds; for settlement. Take a lesson from our Jewish brothers.

    January 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      What's an atheist stronghold? The public library?

      January 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      The illumined ones are neither religious nor atheistic. They see things in terms of centuries rather then in just simplistic yearly visions. The finalized culmination of the illumined ones are for globalized unity in all governances being abridged with unification among all nations. The illumined ones hide from our views and do not bode well within the lime lights. They hide just within the reaches of governments' personages. Common people could care less who rules just as long as their life needs are met. All things which the illumined ones care about has little issue with the commonalities of people's needful issues.

      January 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      Okay, I'll bite. What's the lesson from "our Jewish brothers?" Sometimes lamp oil lasts longer than you thought it would? Or find a way to dominate banking and Hollywood?

      January 15, 2013 at 1:09 am |
    • NatL

      Not the parents, but when the kids start going to university they'll come into more contact with atheists. Unfortunately for your plan, once they get into real universities many of these kids will realize that God isn't real as well.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Lisa

      John P. Tarver is not a true Christian. He is clearly a racist with a lot of hate and no compassion.

      January 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • End Religion

      Lisa it is the acme of foolishness to assume JPT practices a religion any more or less true than yours. It is only that he is a Dapper Dan man and you, a Fop. Same stinking hair gel, different brand.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.