home
RSS
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. Kim Check

    Why are so many of you people so angry? Go to another country and complain Obama is doing a fine job.....get a life

    January 13, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Erin

      Mostly I agree with you re Obama but I wish he could get more done.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • just wondering

      Does raising vacation time to a fine art form qualify as a "good" job?

      January 13, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • Ole Hippie

      I would like to see him get rid of the Federal reserve

      January 13, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Kim Check

      try living in Communist China like I did and you will change your mind about America

      January 13, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • just wondering

      I'd like to see him get rid of ole hippies.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • just wondering

      Is it better to live in a communist country or to live in a country where the incompetent leader is creating a communist country?

      January 13, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Origin of Life

      And get rid of in g-od we trust on the money !!!!
      Was add to the money in 1948.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Kim Check

      You fool! You have no idea what it is like to live under communism

      January 13, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • just wondering

      We are learning. First the minority voice of the atheist then mass murder.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Ole Hippie

      The Federal Reserve is a corporation it has nothing to do with our governmet. It was made up of crooked bankers in 1910, its one big ponzie

      January 13, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • ???????

      Federal Reserve is a Private OLD MONEY bank. Look up old money.
      Redesign money get ride of in g-od we trust
      We can do with out the private bank.
      And they control monatary policy a privite bank ???

      January 13, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  2. StaceinTexas

    Question: Can anyone name one issue this President has supported that too had bipartisan support?

    I seem to recall "the Republicans can sit in the back of the bus."

    If Obama passes any immigration reform it will be by bullying Congress.

    NOTE: EO's are not laws.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Kim Check

      Gays in the military

      January 13, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • pervert alert

      Kim – no one anywhere likes the idea of qu eers in our military except the filthy pillow biters themselves. Qu eers the people who gave the world AIDS.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • So What

      Republican have blocked ALL of Obama's initiatives to fix the mess left by Bush W and his goons. The GOP/teabaggers do not work for the people but for the top 1% of elites. Who do you suppose are the TRAITORS here?

      January 13, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • El Flaco

      Conservative words:

      We will make Obama fail.

      We will make America fail.

      We will block everything that Obama tries.

      We will hold the country hostage until we win the White House.

      We will make Americans suffer until they vote for us.

      We will continue doing this until a Republican is elected to the White House.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  3. Rob

    Nothing is more hypocritical than an evangelical.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • truth be told

      Except you

      January 13, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Ole Hippie

      I think Republicans are in general

      January 13, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • So What

      Evangelicals are harmless when they stick to their Churches but a disaster to all when they try and force public policy.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  4. Jenny

    Yes, but you have to admit that it is amusing to see other's blind faith in a book most have never read or truely understood and a culture they cannot put in historical context. It's kinda like those people who watch Gladiator and pretend to know everything about Rome. Chicken feet are the new nostrils. You can never out the mouth of Tamil under the sky of the ocean.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  5. Chris

    America has gone broke trying to feed, house, and otherwise take care of the AA's in this country who are too lazy to work. Now we're expected to give citizenship, our most valuable possession, to another group who refuse to obey our laws? Yeah, sure, let's git 'er done.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • MrScott

      Too true Chris

      January 13, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  6. So What

    Evangelicals...I don't know if they can be trusted into the public policy arena. America has a lot of problems and now the evangelicals are getting in heavy. We have the tea baggers, conservatives and the republicans trying to destroy this Nation at all costs just to get to the liberals. No one cares about ALL the people, just their just their own groups.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  7. DDM

    USA does not need more people – look at the job market. What do these people not understand about 'illegal' immigration? What is really needed is greater use of birth control – everywhere. An planet overcrowded with human population leaves no quality of life for people, animals, or plants.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  8. dreamer96

    We are all descended from Noah.....Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you...

    January 13, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • Erin

      How then do you explain the presence of Neaderthal DNA in some of us? And the diversity we have, the source of which must have preceded Noah by many generations and would have required progeny from many more people than Noah at his time.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • El Flaco

      Except there never was a Noah or a flood.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • ted32250

      That's a very true statement, go to Mexico illegally and see how you'er treated

      January 13, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • So What

      Noah is a bible story that could never happen how they say. Only way to do that is to have a high tech DNA library of all species. So that guy's children are asian, and african etc...really?

      January 13, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • DCD

      The Church has no place in this discussion.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      You ARE a dreamer. We're NOT all descended from Noah.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • MrScott

      "Give unto God what is God's, and Give unto Cesar what is Cesar's." In the latter case, obey Cesar's laws – Don't come to this country illegally.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  9. NJreader

    Why is "God-fearing" a compliment? And why, if you break laws, should civil society excuse it on grounds that you are religious or because you love your family? A bank-robber who loves his family still robbed that bank! Specious argument from this preacher.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  10. JohnBorg

    I wouldn't call it an evangelical push, as most – but not all – white evangelicals are still strongly against making immigration any easier. Here's a good theological quote for anti-immigrant Christians to think about: "It reveals the regression from the Christian love of one's neighbour back to the pagan privileging of our tribe versus the barbarian Other. Even if it is cloaked as a defence of Christian values, it is itself the greatest threat to Christian legacy."

    January 13, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  11. Guest

    Considering how well they follow their gospel of "inclusion" when it comes to the way they welcome and work with gay or even ex-offenders, one can't help but wonder why suddenly this push for the immigrants.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Erin

      See post below by Reason over Religion. They need the money and members to keep up the Christian ponzi scheme. But I think you know that already.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • pipi

      I agree with you. Too many Christian groups preach that they love God but they don't like Hispanics, Asians, Ex Offenders, the Divorced, you name it. When I was a child and went to church, I was told that we must love everyone no matter who they are and where they are from. My Sunday School teacher said that if you don't love your neighbor, then you don't love God. I don't go to church anymore because the experience is much like listening to a political speech.....too much politics, not enough Bible. Matter of fact, I am embarrassed by the behavior of most of the Christians I know because they use derogatory names for all the minorities and are highly critical of anyone who disagrees with their stance on any issue. There is no acceptance or tolerance of anyone.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  12. El Flaco

    Immigration 'reform' means nothing. Here's what we need to think about.

    How many immigrants, if any, can our society absorb to our benefit?
    What countries will they come from and in what proportions?
    What requirements will we impose regarding their education level, languages spoken, and employment history?
    Are there good jobs that pay a living wage available to them?
    Will they displace Americans from their jobs?

    I personally think we should end all immigration. We have too many people and not enough of anything else.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  13. CHOIR LOFT

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is open to all who will come to the savior for mercy. It is not limited to the borders of any worldly nation and it isn't subject to their laws either.

    Immigration is a political issue, not a spiritual one.

    Allow the government to address political issues and God to address those issues which are His alone.

    but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

    January 13, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Erin

      Present your proof for the existence of your god and the divinity of your jeebus. Or be silent.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • CHOIR LOFT

      The fool has said in his heart there is no god.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • Origin of life

      Origin of life

      Simple blood test will tell you what % of Neanderthal is in your DNA

      Origin of Life no religions needed.

      They just want $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ and votes

      NOVA: Decoding Neanderthals – PBS Pressroom
      pressroom.pbs.org/.../n/NOVA/4002-Decoding-Neanderthals.aspx
      NOVA: Decoding Neanderthals. Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET. Check your local listings. Decoding Neanderthals Ep Main. Find out what

      January 13, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Erin

      As usual, "Loft" has nothing to offer but the hackneyed old lines of his superstition. The time has come to stop religious nonsense. Evangelicals and their Christian god fraud hold far too much sway over our country. Push back. Demand proof.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • So What

      The Christian Bible Jesus is a construct by the Romans that made up the Catholic Church. The council of Niscea and Emperor Constantine around 300 AD cemented the Biblical version of Jesus to what we know today. It has value but its not reality. That is what these evangelicals follow.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • So What

      The Christian Bible Jesus is a construct by the Romans that made up the Catholic Church. The council of Niscea and Emperor Constantine around 300 AD cemented the Biblical version of Jesus to what we know today. It has value but its not reality. That is what these evangelicals follow. Its a myth...

      January 13, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  14. Reason Over Religion

    Evangelicals are the scourge of the United States and a national embarrassment. Of course it suits evangelical purposes to try to sell their god fraud to new immigrants, since they need new recruits to keep their ponzi scheme going and feed church coffers.

    Push back against god frauds such as Christianity to the extent that you can. Demand evidence for their ridiculous claims; none is ever forthcoming. Free America from superstitions. The time has come for pushback. Just do it.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Erin

      Hear, hear. The time has come.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • CHOIR LOFT

      How hypocritical for religious bigots to demand tolerance when they show no willingness to give it themselves.

      Beware the lying tongue of those who eat lies and vomit hatred of all that is good.

      but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Erin

      There is no reason to tolerate religious nonsense, any more than we tolerate any other fraud. Put up your evidence for your superstitions, or just don't post your rubbish.

      Proof please. Demanding proof is not intolerance.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  15. Peter

    Im from Mexico and I love American food

    January 13, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  16. p2365

    “It is personal for me,” Rodriguez said, describing deported friends and congregants as "lovely people. These are wonderful, God-fearing, family-loving people.” Too bad they weren't "Law abiding people".

    January 13, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  17. Ole Hippie

    Most Gay people don't believe in a God

    January 13, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • zivo24

      Unless you're God himself, you don't know what gay people, or anyone else, for that matter believes in.

      Grow up.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Peter

      Most gay people are Democrats

      January 13, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • guitarharry

      Most Christians don't believe in gay people.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • pervert alert

      There are no gay people only diseased qu eers. Qu eers the people that gave the world AIDS.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • tb63

      Let's hope there is reincarnation and Pervert Alert comes back gay.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • pervert alert

      Never happen, you only get one life and normal is the only way to go. Qu eers the people who gave the world AIDS.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • tb63

      You don't know that. I don't know what happens when we die and neither do you.

      BTW, get a new tag line. We're all tired of your current one.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  18. truth be told

    All so called atheists are all liars all the time. atheism is one of the worst cancers on lady liberty. Atheists have tortured and murdered more people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • midwest rail

      It's always a good day when we get to be entertained by the comedic genius of tbt.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • ole Hippie

      they are gay also

      January 13, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • guitarharry

      Read some history, dude; the Inquisition, the Crusades. Murder sanctioned in the name of God.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • truth be told

      All history evidences the murderous personality of atheists. Seek the root cause of mass murder throughout the centuries and you will find the perverse doctrine of the atheist. Truth be told card carrying atheists have still hurt and murdered more innocent people in the last 100 years than were killed in ALL previous centuries.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:14 am |
  19. John Patterson

    When Billy Graham endorsed a Mormon for President all credibility was lost. The same applies here, actions and their motives must be questioned. If they are Bible based and Christian and theologically sound I'm fine with it (and that is my position as a Democrat Christian). However, if they are purely monetary or politically driven I cannot accept these headline stories as being anything other than marketing.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • truth be told

      Nice double speak to avoid your moral responsibility to the issue.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • reddog

      Please, John Patterson, the word is "Democratic." The far right (and perhaps not so far) loves to use "Democrat" as an adjective to make everyone else cringe. Don't join them; you're doing yourself a disservice. You have good language skills; use them to support who you are and what you believe in.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  20. christopher reid

    I am suprised that newly arrived immigrants are not asking what can they give to this country rather than asking what they can take.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • aspblom

      Exactly.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Jenny

      I'm sure that's what they say; followed by "Muwah ha ha ha."

      January 13, 2013 at 9:13 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Advertisement
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.