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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. Rudedog

    In our congregation too, we have seen the husbands deported leaving behind entire families. Like ALL border closures, from Berlin Wall to North and South Korea, borders seperate families.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • Saraswati

      You do realize the US makes up only about 5% of the world population. What exactly do you think would happen if we had open borders?

      January 13, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • JJ

      Perhaps your entire congregation should follow them south of the border and then there would be no issue and less Christian nuts north of the border.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  2. TOPPERG

    This is just more proof that the reglious population is dramatically shrinking. Now reaching for straws to try and augment their numbers. Their story book is losing credibility as years pass and the fictional realities are becoming more and more obvious.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:40 am |
  3. maxmaxwell

    ABIDE BY THE LAW OF THE LAND, I HAVE SPOKEN

    January 13, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      That's what Hitler told the average German and six million Jews died.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • bannister

      Rational Liberatarian – if you truly are rational, how can you compare a SENSIBLE restriction on immigration to Hitler's murder of 6 Million Jews?

      America already let's in 1 Million legal immigrants per year and Million ILLEGAL on top of that! We let in more immigrants every year than ALL OTHER NATIONS COMBINED! All we are asking for is the enforcement of our EXISTING LAWS which are already on the books. If you are truly a libertarian, you should understand that our elected leaders have a SWORN DUTY to uphold existing laws.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  4. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    If we would cut our own grass, do our own landscaping, pick our own vegetables/fruit, cook our own food, clean our own laundary, care for own kids and clean our homes and churches/temples, there would be no need for Mexican, Haitian, Irish, Italian and/or Asian "slaves" and therefore there would be no illegal immigration.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • CurmudgeonTx

      Well, I don't hire any illegal aliens to do any of that.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • John Patterson

      We don't, that;s the problem. We want them to be invisible with no rights. Modern day slavery. Once the republicans get workers down to the pay level and benefits level of "illegal aliens" we'll need less of them. Just charter schools for the rich and religious schools and bare bones education (optional) for laborers.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  5. Mike

    It is true that within the foreseeable future, the Church will turn a blind eye to things it has always taken a strong stand against ... just for the purpose of being politically correct. After all, it's being PC that keeps up the membership stats.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  6. Rational Libertarian

    Basically don't let Christians dictate immigration policy.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • John Patterson

      Amen, Here Here, Cheerio that's a fact jack

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  7. Sane Person

    Need the latino vote next time around eh?

    January 13, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • bannister

      No, we DON"T.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Memo2

    I do believe on Jesus Christ, but any bible,church,or any priest.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • Leif

      Did you get permission from Jesus for that?

      January 13, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I do believe in the importance of coherence.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  9. Pedro Flores

    From Irish Catholics in Boston to Southern Baptist in Houston, from Southern Methodist in Amarilllo to Evangelicals in Nashville, God troops have heard the call. This is why GOD has always favored America. Americans are good decent people. This is why the Protestant church is exploding in growth in LatAm. It is not what one saids but what one does that matters to Jesus.

    The Americas, from Alaska to Argentina is 98% Christian. No where else in the world is there anything like this.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:17 am |
    • Sane Person

      God has always favored America? What are you smoking? Aside from the obvious fact that he is a man-made figment, what segment of the bible leads you to believe he likes the USA the "best"? How does he feel about Tim Tebow getting traded? Also you stat is a bit off. 18% of Americans attend a church regularly. Around 70% claim a belief in a christian god. Less than 1/3rd of the world population is christian. Chrisitanity is on a serious decline in the US and its about time.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Nowhere is 98% Christian, unless you include cultural Christians and even Dawkins has identified himself as culturally Christian.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • JJ

      The Protestant sect of the Christian cult has grown in Latin American completely due to them sending their missionaries to those areas to destroy their cultures and infect the populations with the virus. The Catholic sect still has the main strangle hold though.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Caihlyn

      I can beat those numbers. From the North Pole to the South Pole, from the furthest eastern longitudinal line all the way around our beautiful sphere .. 100% of the people are HUMAN . There is no justification for labels, or imaginary lines drawn on the globe. The Earth is 1 spec in space out of hundreds of billions of other rocky specs. Anyway, I think your numbers are exaggerated...please site your data sources.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • massms

      JJ:

      Which virus is that?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  10. Tim

    Was I just in a coma for the last two years?!? Oh... I get it... The evangelicals who just got all their candidates asses handed to them in the last election because of the Latino vote are suddenly having a change heart... about Latinos. Baloney and balderdash. I hope that others see this as a feckless grab for voters and not some sudden massive revelation about the teachings of the bible.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • KellyF

      Totally agreed! This is so transparent it's pathetic.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • Science

      @Tim
      Our vote = the POWER of the DOLLAR and the G factor (greed) on all sides.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • JJ

      Well...I thought I'd never see the day that Tlibangelical King Billy Graham would take Mormonism off his cult list and the Talibangelicals all voting for a Mormon. They'll pretend it never happend four years from now as always.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • NClaw441

      While the GOP lost the presidential election, the House of Representatives was re-elected with a strong majority of Republicans. Evangelicals has been divided about immigration policy, as has the whole country.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • captnsupremo

      Not reading carefully or thinking critically: the article said this coalition was formed in July, before the election. Furthermore, many members of the coalition have devoted their long careers prior to this moment to immigration reform, so it's hardly an overnight change for them. The group is only receiving any press now because politicians are ready to change their positions and align with them on immigration issues – that is the what is transparent.

      January 14, 2013 at 1:16 am |
    • Jack Wolford

      and grab for cash -

      January 14, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  11. Science

    For modern man to continue to believe in supernatural alien gods, they must show a complete disregard for both history, anthropology, and common sense.

    Agree sort of like this person I know(one of my brothers top of his class) but has his head where the sun DOESN"T
    shine, But after years of getting beat up by common sense and our family's DNA tree by National Geographic Genome Project 2.0 he had all the proof and facts needed.

    January 13, 2013 at 7:10 am |
  12. Fritz Hohenheim

    Christians! Just like with slavery. While it was profitable, they were all for it. then, when that position was frowned upon by more and more of their congregation aka money-donators, they started to take the opposite position. Just the same here. Now that the Mexicans are becoming more and more powerful they swing. He who pays my bill is he who's song I sing. Pathetic

    January 13, 2013 at 7:09 am |
    • NClaw441

      It wasn't the atheists who freed the slaves in this country.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  13. dreucalypt

    It is refreshing to see Evangelicals take such a stand. I hope this helps immigration reform get somewhere.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • Leif

      Evangelicals are more complex than most give them credit for.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:07 am |
  14. BD70

    Respect for the rule of law apparently wasn't considered when they came here illegally. As strangers you will be treated kindly as we deport you. Fearing God does not override the law of the land either. If all those who came here illegally now get a free pass and path to citizenship how will that solve the problem? More will come hoping for the same.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:54 am |
    • Leif

      Everyone is here illegally.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • BD70

      Leif – don't go down the path of taking the land from the Indians. Too late for that.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:59 am |
    • Leif

      BD70. I did not make an exception for the "Indians"

      January 13, 2013 at 7:03 am |
    • BD70

      Explain then. How is it we are all here illegally? No one owns the land? There shall be no boundaries? Where should we go to be legal?

      January 13, 2013 at 7:06 am |
    • Leif

      We are all here illegally because someone at some point has declared it to be so.
      The law is what we make of it. Yet we are all here. I am here. You are here. My cat is here.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • Leif

      Even the people of HR are here, go figure.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • Saraswati

      Leif, what is your point? Do you want every reference to a law to add the clause " under current USLaw"? Should news strikes read "John Smith was arrested for shoplifting under current US law? Looks like a waste of a bunch of language for something we all know.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:16 am |
    • Leif

      I want every reference to every law to include respect for life and rational thought.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • Leif

      That goes double if the party involved has any connection with HR.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Leif, then I recommend saying what you mean rather than making pat over simplifications on a complex issue like immigration.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • Yang

      the "rule of law" is vastly different from the "rule of survival." people emigrate when they see possibility of better, safer, healthier lives for their families. your law means nothing in the face of that. we are not made of paper and ink.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  15. dale schory

    i like many americans believe a guest worker program leading to the possibility of citizenship is a good idea. we need immigration reform badly,however there good christian ministers should not advocate the breaking of the law by people who come here illegally. they deserve to be deported. there are consequences for breaking the law. we have the right to send these people back home. it is a legal matter not a biblical one. we can be nice to these people by giving them food,water and a change of cloths before we send them back.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  16. liz

    Any new message the evangelicals have wil be lost if, like their old messages, they do not practice what they preach.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:50 am |
  17. nc1965

    Why do people pray to air hoping that it will bring meaning to their miserable lives.

    Hey! I just answered my own question.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:49 am |
    • Leif

      I pray to air because is is drier than water.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  18. Yang

    holy cow... these evangelicals sound like christians!! thanks, guys :)

    January 13, 2013 at 6:48 am |
  19. davr green

    And we're off! The right wing Christians take a strong lead.."Praise God and pass the ammunition! Kill em all, let God sort em out!" But wait! The softer left leaning Christian is making a push "These are good christian folks! We should help them and nurture them! What would Jesus do?"" Oh the excitement is palpable folks!
    Then of course, is the rest of us, doing a massive face palm, while the religious fanatics of this country argue about what is going to make their god happy. I know, maybe we should sacrifice a few virgins to a volcano!

    January 13, 2013 at 6:48 am |
  20. Bernard Webb

    I think of today's extreme evangelicals as heartless and cruel, given to quoting (or misquoting) Bible verses to justify their depravity. Did they have a change of heart after republicans lost so badly in November?

    January 13, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • Leif

      There are plenty of non-evangelicals who are heartless and cruel.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:01 am |
    • Caihlyn

      Why yes! Yes they did. They are now 'pretending' to be good humans when really all they want is one thing...votes....and power...oops! That's two things. All they really want is two things: votes and power...and control over everyone else's lives...oops! That's three things. All they want is votes, power, control over everyone else's lives and legal immunity...and perhaps some tax breaks.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:06 am |
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