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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. It's all biblical

    Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and the Mexicans in the US will be just like Moses and the Israelites in the land of Canine.
    The Israelites invaded the land of Canine, slaughtered the men, women and children that would not surrender and agree to be slaves and took the land and the wealth for themselves. All with god's help and blessing.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Except that story is merely a fictionalized account of the pharoah Thutmoses who united the warring tribes of the eastern Mediterranean into 12 nation states by building a religion based on the line of Jacobian (Jehovan) kings.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Mike R

      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, today. So grow up.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • Mike R

      ...grow up, spiritually.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Mike R – you do realize that you believe there are invisible people in the sky, and you want someone else to grow up? Think about that.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  2. .

    "Many children in the United States . . . are severely psychologically, physically, and se-xually traumatized by angry, sadistic parents or other adults . . . The vast majority of [these] were abused by Christians.""Nothing is more simple than 'the devil made them do it' . . . Especially for those raised to religiously believe so, Satanism offers an explanation as to why 'good' people do bad things [and may help to 'explain' bizarre and compulsive se-xual urges . . . The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of god, Jesus and Mohammed than has ever been committed in the name of Satan
    –Kenneth V Lanning FBI expert on "satanic, occult and ritualistic crime"

    January 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  3. .

    "Many children in the United States . . . are severely psychologically, physically, and se-xually traumatized by angry, sadistic parents or other adults . . . The vast majority of [these] were abused by

    January 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  4. brian

    by the way, when you all say "god" you have to be more specific. which god? delusional sheep

    January 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      Did you miss the capital "G"???

      January 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  5. brian

    religion is the cancer of the world.

    January 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Faisal

      No. That's your mother.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Faisal

    Jesus does not like America. Preach your word all you want, but leave God's name out of it. There is no relation between what you preach and do, and God.

    January 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Get a hold of yourself... yes, we reject your murderous xtian god. I've done quite well without him thus far, and his presence is not welcome in my future.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Jesus does not like America for two huge reasons:
      1) "Jesus" is an amalgamation of several real life messianic figures claiming to be divine.
      2) All those men are dead, and hence cannot hold an opinion on anything.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Faisal

      Seyedibar, you are wrong and going to hell.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  7. Faisal

    How many times do I need to repeat myself. God has nothing to do with America and America has nothing to do with God.

    January 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Faisal

      and let me add something important: THAT IS NEVER GOING TO CHANGE. so give up your hope.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Edweird69

      There is no god...what is your point?

      January 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Faisal

      You're right, there is no God in America, because of people like you, Edweird69.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Wow! I had no idea I had so much control over god. He must be awfully lame, if I can detour his will.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Faisal

      It's lame to be uninterested in you?

      January 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Faisal – I'm so hurt. Your murderous sky fairy has rejected me. What will I do? OH, I know, I know...live a sane life, unlike you.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
    • cronewinter

      Problems Faisal? Who and when did you become gods (any of them) mouth piece? My Goddess farts in your general direction as you are too meaningless to blow off the earth. Get a life you mean spirited little person.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
    • Faisal

      You're no where near sanity.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Look at the man in the picture of this article. Is that what you consider sane? I guess I do like the telepathic line you all have to your delusional sky fairy.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Faisal

      Do gays look any more sane when they are doing what they do?

      January 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Faisal, how do you *know* there are any gods – even just the one(s) you grovel to?

      January 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  8. SEAL Team Alpha and Omega

    The best news in this story is that Willard Romney LOST his rich-p–r–i-c–k A–S–S off. Ha ha. I hate that man more than God hates sin and more than the NRA hates gun control. Thank God, Obama is our President!

    January 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Edweird69

      When people asked me what I wanted for Xmas, I let them know...I got my gifts on election day. It was a Merry Xmas.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Faisal

      an evangelical Christian was elected, Edweird69. is that what you wanted?

      January 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Obama is hardly an evangelical. He played along. Brilliant man! He knew the world was full of lonnies like you, and he played on it. LOVE IT !!

      January 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
    • Faisal

      So you're saying loonies voted for him?

      January 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Yep Faisel – he got the loonie vote, and the vote of us sane people. I love America !!

      January 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Faisal

      Loonies voted for him. I agree.. Must be nice to get all the votes as a result of superficial reasons, such as the Americans general lack of understanding of the Bible, and the "I'm too good for the Bible" vote. You are divided against yourself just like my magic sky God told me in the Bible, and you will fall on your face very soon and be scattered to unrecognizable pieces, again, just like my magic sky God told me. you can refer to Matthew 21:44

      January 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  9. SEAL Team Alpha and Omega

    The best news in this story is taht Willard Romney LOST his rich-p–r–i-c–k A–S–S off. Ha ha. I hate that man more than God hates sin and more than thre NRA hates gun control. Thank God, Obama is our President!

    January 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  10. Dave Francis

    I really don't care who comes here whether legally or illegally, I just don't want to pay my taxes to support the foreign leeches–simple as that?

    January 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      all the more reason we should replace income tax with a high sales tax on all goods nonessential to life.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Dave

      Who is the leech? The immigrant who comes across and works very hard at below minimum wage for years, enriching his hypocritical U.S. citizen employers who exploit the immigration laws while everyone looks the other way?

      These immigrants have been creating wealth for our entire country while getting the short end of the stick. This is not what America should be about.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  11. us_1776

    The Sky Fairy does not exist.

    Get over it.

    .

    January 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Faisal

      Dare you to man up and say it to my face.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  12. gee

    More tea party idiots.

    January 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  13. Mike R

    Three words for you immagrent haters: Kharmic Manifest Destiny. This is God's will to bring balance and to create a peaceful society. Submit and you will be rewarded the kingdom of heaven. Praise Jehovah! Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus! And God bless us all to create peace on this earth, amen!

    January 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Not sure if this is sarcasm or what? God's will?? You're kidding...right? Please tell me you are.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Mike R

      To make my point clear, when early settlers took land from the native Americans by force, they called it "manifest destiny". For illegal immigrants to come to their own ancestors' land for a better living; their just getting back what was rightfully theirs. Kharma means " what goes around, comes around". You take or steal, it will be taken back. Better to not fight what is God's will of giving back the rights to the original native Americans north and south of the TexMex border. Give back and God will bless you and your future generations with peace and harmony in this country. This will inspire other countries in the world so that it can unite with Jehovah God's will: the return of the kingdom of heaven. Amen!

      January 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Your extraordinary assumption that god exists, demands extraordinary proof. If god has a will to do what he wants, that negates our will to do what we want. It's circular logic.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Your comment refers to three different gods. Jehovah, Jesus, and Amen. Make up your mind which one you worship.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  14. Basically

    When you treat employees like crap and give them crap pay, you get crap employees.

    January 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  15. Juan

    Haters gonna Hate

    January 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Basically

      And Christians sure do hate.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • paul terry

      Im a white republican and follower of christs aka christian. our government has done nothing to illegal immigrants for 25 years and all of the sudden in the last 5 years it has become a political issue for political gain. they came here for work and have done a very good job (and on time too) they have stayed and raised good families and should not be torn apart. i think we should now fight for the rights of american citizens (these children of immigrants) fight for the rights to keep their parents here. IT IS A SICK COUNTRY WHO WOULD DEPORT THE THE MOTHER OF A 5 YEAR OLD. give everyone id cards and set up the scanners at the border let everyone come and go back and forth. this is trackable if they come in another way through the desert then we would know who the smugglers would be. simple fix if you ask me.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  16. nick

    Where was God when Hitler and his killers killed millions of mostly God fearing people,was HE sleeping,
    Religion is nothing but massive BRAINWASHING,God and the rest of this Bible nonsense does not exist!!!!

    January 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Hitler considered himself a Christian. One reason he hated the Jews was because they supposedly "killed Jesus" (whose existence is still in question...and if he did exist, he was not a god). But yeh, if god exists (which I don't believe he does), he was certainly benevelent about the plight of the victims.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Get educated

      God punished the Jews for refusing to accept Chris, and killed him. Hitler was an atheist.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Hitler was no atheist. He was a Lutheran.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Edweird69

      @Get Educated – your name is a misnomer. And you are totally wrong. Hitler was no atheist. As much as Xtians would like to believe he was, history will rebuke it. Hitler, indeed, was no atheist.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  17. PS

    "'I am hopeful that Congress can walk and chew gum and the same time,' Land said." Oh, honey, we can all dream, can't we?

    January 13, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  18. Dave

    'National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference'?? Gee,there are absolutely no inherent conflicts with this group supporting Hispanic illegals are there?

    January 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  19. samsart

    Impose sanctions on the countries where illegals are leaving in droves. Sanctions to be lifted when they start providing for their own citizens. The US should enact the laws that many countries have- you want to live here? You have a job, a place to stay and you are fluent in the language of the land, then you may come here. Otherwise, you get deported. Religion has to be taken out of the governing of this country. Of course many of these churches wish for these folk to come- their coffers grow when they do.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      That is absolutely ridiculous.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The sanctions bit, I agree with the rest.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Kormallain

      I just love, how economics bring out the best in humanity.

      January 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  20. ohisaidit

    Let the illegals have California. Its a fair sacrifice to save the rest of us.

    January 13, 2013 at 3:42 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.