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.”
The really GOOD thing here is that an Evangelical Christian group is getting back to core Christian doctrine from Matthew 25 and the obligation of Christians to those in need instead of simply following the GOP party platform of hatred and xenophobia. We Christians are not supposed to be concentrating on punishing or even preventing "sin": we are supposed to be showing mercy and seeing to the real needs of a needy world while ourselves and among ourselves AVOIDING sin personally. THIS group seems to have gotten these priorities a bit back into proper order.
Most of the evangelical church will spin on a dime when their conservative leaders tell them to. The 2012 election proved that. I can't tell you how many times in my childhood I heard what crazy heretics/cultists Mormons were. As soon as they are told to vote Mormon though, they vote Mormon. And don't give me that "lesser of two evils" crap, where does the bible say vote for the lesser of two evils, particularly when you COULD vote for who you actually wanted?
Rmtaks – christians can square any circle with no problem. Ignorance is bliss for the rubes it seems.
Evangelicals are just upset that good god fearing customers are no longer throwing singles in the collection plates. And for rmtaks, if a Mormon is the republican candidate they will vote for him over a democrat any day. It has nothing to do with them spinning. Most still view Mormonism as a cult and would have much rather had a Catholic or Baptist. You look at it so narrowly and spin the reasons to match hypocrisy. You could do that with most anything. It doesn't make u right.
That's the spirit! When your bronze age religion's philosophy is at odds with modern society, just rewrite it to be nicer and more humane! It's not as if the words contained within are true or anything.
Core Christian doctrine? Matt. 25 was taken entirely out of context. It refers to taking care of the persecuted (Jews) during the Tribulation; not granting amnesty to present-day illegal aliens. Likewise with all the other Scripture quoted in the article: ripped out of context to support a peconceived agenda. Not God-honoring at all.
LOL@ the gospel of Matthew. That particular gospel wasn't even about Jesus. The author stole the book of Mark and added in the virgin birth and the geneology to connect it to his own Judean messiah, Mattai.
Religious people don't care about this world. They think they are just waiting in line for something better that doesn't really exist.
Never trust anyone that thinks this life will be followed by a better eternal one. That causes people to disavow this life and the lives around them, and lead to suicide bombings, mass slayings, familial murders. I lost track of how many parents killed their children this past year mistakenly believing they were sending them to heaven.
Whew! .....what a bigoted response from another low information socialist zealot schooled in the religion that is obumbles
It is illegal to immigrate to this country without the proper paper work. There are consequences for doing so, period.
Why do we not throw the people that hire those illegal immigrants in Jail???
So, since we pretty much came here without paperwork, well our ancestors did, then we, too, are illegal.
Yep, such as pardons.
You know TomCom
Fake paperwork for illegals is a huge underground business....Why does the IRS take taxes from many different people using the same Social Security Number ...Maybe because they know who it legally belongs to, and will never have to pay out for the illegals ...so it is free money for their Social Security Fund....
My real name is Donald R DeCiccio.
My real name is Giuseppe Petri
The Cone Head troll speaks again!
Unless You are a WWII German Rocket Scientist...then the Government does all the paperwork for you....
Never think for one second this has anything to do with immigration. It's about U.S. "churches" seeing an opportunity to add bodies to their congregations, which will in turn add dollars to their collection plates. This is far cheaper for the churches than sending missionaries across the globe to gather converts/money.
Not to mention it takes time to convert those gifts oversea to cash...How fast can you sell a goat?...
The hypocrisy of the Evangelicals is astounding. While I think we need serious immigration reform and that breaking up families is a ridiculous policy, the Evangelicals are supporting immigration reform for their own benefit to increase their membership. They can quote the bible all they want to justify their position but, their real goal is to increase their membership and cash flowing into their coffers. For those using the discredited argument that immigrants are taking American's jobs, it is a fact that Americans won't do the jobs that immigrants do and do well with pride. The fact is that many businesses need these so called "illegals" and that they do perform a valuable service for our economy. The bickering and grandstanding in congress to defend the views of anti immigration reformers who are ignorant about the value of immigrants to our country has to STOP. Do we not learn anything from history? We have the same arguments with every large group of immigrants. Irish, Italians, etc. and now Hispanics.
Americans would do these jobs if we did not have a welfare system that was not so easy to feed off of. Too many people are on the US welfare breeder program.... What is going to happen when the government can't give away billions of free money to the freeloaders.. ?
Religion fixes EVERYTHING!
My neighborhood pastor refused to fix my clogged toilet
To athensguy: maybe because you were too full of it.
When Joseph P. Smith talked to Jesus...Did Joseph say he looked like a White Dude?....
Did Jesus tell Joseph the Real Garden of Eden was in Missouri???
Joe Smith didn't claim to talk to 'Jesus' - he had a special super angel pal.
Why did Joseph take the word of a stranger..even an Angel?....
Joseph Smith was on the run for running schemes.
(but, in fact, there is no evidence that it actually happened, you know)
Smith learned his religion via magical golden plates and an angel that only he could see and translated the plates with a black rock in his hat.
Then he rode a unicorn over a rainbow and caught a leprechaun and then performed home abortions on his wives (that part is true).
It's all part of the liberal agenda...one thing after another to keep us in chaos...to bad I don't feel that way...shoot all illegals...
someone forgot his c . r . a . z . y pills this morning....
Tarvon Martin was only armed with a bottle of Tea and bag of Skittles....
Liberals don't need an agenda to keep the church in chaos. It has been full of ambition, corruption, and hypocrisy since its inception.
That and you consider the most ideologically similar religion to yours, Islam, to be your greatest enemy. You both have strong conservative values, yet you can't get along with half the globe between you. What does that tell you about those values?
Let's see if the Report Abuse button really works.
I think the report abuse might take at least 3 hits from three different IP addresses to work...but it might get the attention of a CNN monitor right away...
Learn to bless others and you too will be blessed. Do not take pride in your ignorance of others in this world. Like Yoda said: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and this leads to your suffering." It's time to put your fear and guns away. Enter to the new age of wisdom and enlightenment and learn to value the intangible. No more stupid cowboys and indians game. Let's change America and the world for the better. Praise Jehovah! Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus! God bless you!
posting praise on a public forum to imaginary creatures is "taking pride in ignorance." You just broke your own dadgum rule, varmint.
Imagination is boundless when it comes to speaking in terms of religious and sacred texts. The idea is to use these templates to create what is positive,just like God created you "creatures" into existence. Look at all the postings on this forum. How many religious comments are made without a positive message accompanying it? It's time to put away childish thinking, you don't have to believe in Santa Clause to learn the gift of giving. I will be praying Jehovah to illuminate the darkness in your negative minds. God bless you! Hallelujah!
Couldn't agree more! Here you made a religious comment and there was no accompanying positive message. Kudos.
Jehovah was not a god. It was a line of kings that ruled the eastern mediterranean for Egypt. They were officially made deities by Thutmoses II, the Egyptian war general who the bible calls Moses. Much of modern christianity still references Egypt today. Half of Jesus tales and miracles are adapted from Egyptian folklore, and even today they still end their prayers in the name of the sun god, Amen.
To seyedibar: For you to believe that God as a bunch of dead kings makes your spiritual values exactly that, dead. Learn to create a positive image of God so that people can be inspired to create what is positive in this world. You may have been disappointed as a child when you learned that Santa clause isn't a real breathing human person with special powers. But you know that the spirit of hope and giving is very real and that it brings positive action. Don't die in your hopeless view of reality, learn to inspire others much like Jehovah does.
Religion has no place in public policy. Quoting the bible is offensive in a public discourse.
Does wisdom offend you?
Mike R: When people consider tribal wisdom from 2000+ years ago somehow more advanced/relevant than modern solutions that offends me.
What wisdom? The bible is made up nonsense that has no relevance in an educated society. Great for brainwashing ancient societies and justifying war, wonderful for keeping people abused, poor and ignorant but ridiculous childish drivel in the modern world.
This is such a joke! The religious right is neither.
I don't know which is worse, a tacolic or an anhellical.
Note to these evangelicals. God is not a bleeping republican.
This is who you are Democrats. You have lost what being an American is!
"...What does Christianity mean today? National Socialism is a religion. All we lack is a religious genius capable of uprooting outmoded religious practices and putting new ones in their place. We lack traditions and ritual. One day soon National Socialism will be the religion of all Germans. My Party is my church, and I believe I serve the Lord best if I do his will, and liberate my oppressed people from the fetters of slavery. That is my gospel..."
- Joseph Goebbels, 1928
You are an idiot.
....and you call yourself Jimmy Joe Jim Bob? LOL
Yeah, dummy, I named myself after my four fathers. I'm guessing you have five...
another hitler reference .... yawn ...
....but of course you know that because you're probably bored sitting at your CNN desk doing nothing but watching their ratings and revenue fall again and again....
My forefathers came here in the 1650's and one actually has a certain famous "square" in Philly named after them. I'll bet you have no idea which one and why it's important to this country's founding.
Hitler? Yes we have another low information obama voter who failed the state education camps in history. Now quickly go google "when" Hitler came to power.
Gee, you just keep proving how stupid you are, Ratty.
For the record, your forefathers were illegal immigrants.
You've filled your head with facts and figures, names and numbers.
However, the most important number here is your IQ, which is clearly not more than two digits. IOIW, you were, and are, a "C" student, on your finest day. This means that at least 70% of what you think you know is wrong. Since that is a compounding factor, combined with all of your disparate information, and your lack of intellectual capacity to correlate, postulate, interpolate and extrapolate, you are left totally bereft of any innate ability to form an argument that cannot immediately be shot to pieces by the poorest of marksmen.
Poor jimmy the self important loser who thinks he has a bean on things...
No they were not "illegal" when there were "no laws"....get it? ...or do you think moving the target to where your shot lands will work this time too?
If we built a continuous line town homes next to each other, from one end of the southern border on the east to the other end on the west...and had their back doors on the border or the river edge....The home owners could legally shoot the illegals as they ran through their houses...
what a moronic thing to say. For the world most powerful country and the greatest country in the world (next to mine) why is it you are so focused on paranoia and and fear?
In the 60's anti-whites forced ALL and ONLY white countries to open their borders to non-white immigration. Then anti-whites forced ALL and ONLY white people to "integrate" or face penalties for being "naziswhowantokill6millionjews." Now anti-whites are counting down the days for when ALL and ONLY white children become minorities and eventually extinct EVERYWHERE. It's Genocide. "Anti-racist" is a codeword for anti-white.
we're all various shades of pinkish/brown now. As the world's borders open, it will be even more so. Fighting to keep a pigmentation pure is as idiotic as it is futile.
If the church wishes to discuss government issues they need to start paying taxes.
Yes! This is one of the best statements made in the comments section.
Now my preference, I think, would be to keep their mouth shut and tax exempt.
Jesus is The Way (Error Correction – Repentance), The Truth (Probability [1,0] in Spacetime), and the Life (All the impacts of Policy on Life – not just abortion).
Who do these people follow? Not Jesus!
They all, including you, manipulate and interpret the alleged Jesus talk to suit their whims and purposes.
p.s. That's the main reason that there are over 30,000 denominations of Christians.
If you are a parent ask yourself this question: what am I willing to do if I can not feed my family but my rich neighbor has an embarrassment of riches in his house? Yes. You would knock on the door and ask permission to come in, but when you do that they he tells you you have to wait 12 years. Your child is starving and your neighbor forgot to close the door to the garage..... Now WHAT WOULD YOU DO??
Work hard and improve your own country.
how about making YOUR country accountable to its citizens instead of making American tax payers accountable to you.
The Council of Native American Indian Tribes agrees....Deport all illegal immigrants....
Load up the boats with the Pale Faces boys...
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.