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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. George of the Urban Jungle

    Spending eternity in surrouonded by Chads and Tophers doing nothing but being a toady stoking God's ego sounds far more like a hell than ah heaven.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Faisal

      Well you're in good luck then. heaven is a misused word. all it is, is a word used to describe another dimension. Evangelicals know nothing of God.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • sam stone

      chad and gopher are snivelling punks. they and their god are impotent little pr1cks.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  2. Good News

    Jesus at the mount sermon.... Amazing speech!

    January 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      too bad it was originally considered the words of the Judean messiah Mattia, not Jesus, and a bad forgery at that, considering you can find about 70% of itoriginating in Psalms, Lamentations, and assorted Talmud writings.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks for that great, factual reply, Seyedibar.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • George of the Urban Jungle

      Yeah, that's the speech where Jesus says all the old laws like killing mouthy children are still in effect, and he is making them stricter. Where it directly instruct you "do not resist an evil person" (really bad advice), where he announces divorce is a sin, where he orders you not to "practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (oops, no reward for Topher and Chad and Hobby Lobby owners), and "when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others" (oops!), and "You cannot serve both God and money" (oops for Hobby Lobby and Dominoes and Chik Fil A), and of course "Do not judge, or you too will be judged . . . it will be measured to you" (OOOOPPPSSS!!!!! That's the favorite passtime of Christians!).

      One look at the Sermon on the Mount and you will see what terrible hypocrites Christians are. None of them even try to live up to it.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      You are quite welcome, Ed.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Kevin

    Time to take away the tax breaks for the Evangelical church. Keep your religion out of our politics.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  4. Good News

    Hispanic legal/illegal immigration is a good thing..... Christianity will increase dramatically again :)

    January 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Ed

      How is continuing and spreading the Christian god fraud / ponzi scheme a good thing?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Whoa Dude

    They would get a much better turnout if they were pushing grass instead of a grassroots push for evangelicalism.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  6. Steve

    It doesn't make sense, these are all racist people who normally want to keep everyone out who is not of Anglo descent.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  7. New York

    Only Christian illegals should be welcome... all others kicked out or jail time

    January 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      A better idea: that immigrants have to leave their old religions behind as it has no place in a modern civilized nation.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  8. Steve

    What is the perverse desire to be around "God-fearing" people? What an a- hole this supposed god is that wants us to live in fear.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • New York

      Steve @ Go Fy*ck your dad's @$.$hole

      January 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Gods never existed. The New Testament god was nothing more than an egyptian pharoah, and they were quite obsessive about their subjects worshiping them.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  9. Smith

    I'll rather have illegal Christians than Muslim citizens.....

    January 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn would rather have illegal leprechauns, but she really doesn't have a preference when it comes to imaginary deities.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Smith

      There are plenty and enough for scientific and secular historical evidence that Jesus existed.
      Now go s8ck your uncles balls

      January 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      That's because you have no recognition of the fact that America recognizes religious liberty.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Very few people deny Jesus existed. Cary Grant also existed but I don't drink blood and hate gay people in Cary Grant's name.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      @smith – how very christian of you

      January 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Smith

      You said, "There are plenty and enough for scientific and secular historical evidence that Jesus existed."
      Whether the dude existed is irrelevant. Preachers are a dime a dozen, even those that think they're special.

      There isn't a shred of evidence to suggest you Jesus was special in any way. Even less that his dad was anything other than human.

      You said, "Now go s8ck your uncles balls"
      Nice.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  10. John

    I love my illegals because they do my sh'itty job very cheap :)

    January 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  11. Spanish as official language

    You "White" Americans better get used to us.... soon we will be the majority and we will run this nation!

    January 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      True dat, which is why the religious right is going to try and co-opt you.
      Don't fall for their hype.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Merc

      You don't want to fix your own country, so you come here. Why should we welcome you when you refuse to follow the basic laws that will allow you to come here legally?

      You act so ungrateful, yet the U.S. obviously provides you with opportunities that you can't seem to find in your own country. Why hate us? Why not be grateful that you're here? Why do you need to "take over" America? Why not just live and work here legally?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Spanish is evil

      You people are already fing it up.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Because they want Aztlan back. Despite their newfound christianity, Mexicans have not forgotten the prophecies of their older religions which promise the lands of the western US to them. I see a lot of bumperstickers and car window decals bragging about it where I live.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  12. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    ATHEISTS WILL BURN IN HELLFIRE!!!

    January 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Thanks for the reminder that your "all-loving" god will torture me horribly for eternity simply because I don't profess my love.

      Wow, what's not to like?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Smith

      God loves those who love Him

      U understand?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      @smith – yes, completely. Your god hates those that do not love him. Oh, you don't think it's "hate" to torture someone for all eternity? I'd say that's pretty "hatelful".

      But here's the thing. There is no hell. There is no god. And so the question really is moot.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Smith

      You will meet Him on your judgement day.... feel bad for you

      January 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Hell is an imaginary concept. it is based on ancient writings of an underworld called Sheol whichd id not feature fire, but most modern historians believe that it referred originally to a ravine where they tossed the bodies of the sick, unwanted, or enemy.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Smith' is a form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      January 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Kormallain

      Since the invention of refrigeration, the concept of Hot Hell is kind of moot. If I was "The Devil", I would have my central AC set to a comfortable 72 degree.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Doug

    Sadly democrats have figured out that immigration equals votes for their party. It is a pretty easy social and political position for them. They take money from people that would not vote for them anyway and create govt programs that attract ever more illegal immigration. Any republican resistance is easily shutdown with by playing the race card. Not sure how any of this will ever change until a majority of Americans of all races recognize their futures are being sold for votes.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  14. sohappy

    the evangelical message is the same, "Jesus Saves".

    January 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      free people do not need to be saved. only slaves do

      January 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      he saves stamps? pennies? what?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      He saves sinners, and then when he has enough, he redeems them for valuable prizes.
      It's like spiritual skeeball.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  15. Jim32

    Obama does not need the illegal/hispanic vote anymore. So expect this issue to be placed back on the back burner for now.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Stevuss

      deportations were up during Obama's last term.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  16. OCCUPY WALLSTREET FOR SENATE 2014 and beyond!!!

    Is the guy in the picture having an orgasm?

    January 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      He's probably an Occupy Wall Streeter waiting for someone to pay his college tuition.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • George of the Urban Jungle

      He's having a bowel movement.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  17. Ravi in Nebraska

    I think this is misleading to say it's an evangelical movement. We're talking about a very small minority of evangelicals. Ask southern evangelicals how they feel about immigration, and you'll get a very different, nasty response.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  18. MagicPanties

    “...As evangelical leaders, we live every day with the reality..." that belief in imaginary beings is somehow rational.

    I support immigration reform, but religion has nothing to do with it.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Steven Harnack

      Really! I suspect that their motive lies more with increasing their own bottom line. If you want to be kind to strangers then just do it, but stay out of politics or start paying taxes on your income and properties.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  19. TJ

    What part of "ILLEGAL" do these pseudo-Christians not understand?

    What part of "Rended unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" (obey the LAW of the LAND) do these fake Christians not understand? Deportation is the very least these criminal aliens should receive – years in prison is what's deserved. Certainly rewarding them with legitimacy is NOT how Christians reward evil.

    CNN – again twisting both Christianity AND criminal behavior.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • dreamer96

      Criminal aliens go to Area 51...along with the ship they arrived in...

      January 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • GAW

      Somehow I see you in a wife beater t-shirt with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Arrest, fine, and jail those who hire illegals. NO JOBS for illegals, NO ILLEGALS. Period. Done.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Stevuss

      my not paying taxes would be good for the national economy and good for my family. can I do that?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • TJ

      @Dreamer96: I'm guessing you're joking here. In ALL seriousness though, they are here ILLEGALLY, and as soon as they land here, commit several felonies in order to obtain work. Either you support our laws, or you support criminality. Which is it?

      and @GAW: Wow... did formulating that childish comment require all three of your Iiberal brain cells? C'mon now... are you telling everyone here you support your wife and children being hurt by criminaIs? I mean, you do support criminaIity and iIlegal behavior (by your own admission), and that means you support your loved ones being hurt and maimed. Not I, as you would have others believe. So, tell us, how long have supported those who break the laws of our nation?

      January 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Steven Harnack

      So you want to throw them in prison? As punishment for seeking work, food and housing for their families you propose that the government houses and feeds them for a few years? No wonder the south is mired in ignorance and poverty.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • TJ

      @ Steve Harnack: Sorry if you think someone breaking into your home to steal your food, money, etc, to feed and clothe their family is okay... not all of us can condone criminality the way you do. I mean, if someone robs a bank to feed their family, or even the local 7-11 is okay with you, then by golly, illegal immigration ought to be okay too! You go boy. By the way, I'm from NY City, as if that has any real bearing on anything.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Arrest, fine, and jail those who hire illegals. NO JOBS for illegals= NO ILLEGALS. Period. Done.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  20. Ed

    How is continuing and spreading their god fraud / ponzi scheme a good thing?

    January 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • GAW

      You just said that below. Quit saying the same things over and over again. It shows lack of thought.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
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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.