Latino evangelicals challenge Alabama brethren on immigration
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
November 13th, 2011
09:28 PM ET

Latino evangelicals challenge Alabama brethren on immigration

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN

Birmingham, Alabama (CNN) - When the Alabama legislature approved what is considered the nation's toughest anti-illegal immigration law, much of the state's religious community was quick to condemn it.

The Roman Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches went to court to block the law, calling it "the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation." But Latino evangelical leaders say a key voice in Alabama's debate is missing - that of their own denominations.

"Because this is at some level a moral issue, and the religious community cannot stand idly by and allow a moral issue like this to go without a comment," said Carlos Campo, president of Virginia's Regent University, the college founded by evangelical icon Pat Robertson.

Religious leaders met in Birmingham last week to discuss the their role in the debate, with about 50 people gathering in a theater-turned-church.

"What is happening in Alabama is incredible," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the California-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "It is a repeat of the chapter lived by African-Americans, but now the African-Americans are Latinos and immigrants."

Campo and Rodriguez said that while consensus exists among evangelical leaders to speak out on immigration issues, the message is not reaching the pews.

"The pastors are failing, within the evangelical movement, in contextualizing the message to their members to call the elected officials at the local and federal level, and encourage an immigration reform that is not amnesty, but is not Alabama either. We have to find something in the middle that has a biblical balance," said Rodriguez, whose group represents churches with a membership of about 16 million.

According to a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey, more than 45% of Alabama residents identify themselves as evangelicals. But Campo said that group is not speaking with a unified voice.

"I think it is very hard as an evangelical, when I hear it is the Catholic and Methodist churches that came to the forefront and were the first ones to speak out and speak out strongly, but many in the evangelical community have resisted that," he said.

"Justice and mercy should go hand in hand, and I think we have to challenge the evangelical church to come to the forefront and be more unified that we've been," he added.

Alabama's HB 56, which Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law in June, allows police to question crime suspects about their immigration status and arrest those believed to be in the United States illegally. It requires someone renting a house or buying a car to verify their legal status, while anyone trying to connect to services such as public water or sewers must have state-issued identification.

The Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic churches' lawsuit asked a federal judge to block portions of the law that criminalized the transport and housing of illegal immigrants, provisions they argued would prevent them from providing services to illegal immigrants. Though the church lawsuit was dismissed, US. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn blocked those provisions in a separate lawsuit filed by the federal government and a coalition of civic groups that included the American Civil Liberties Union.

Campo said that, if Jesus was alive today, he'd be in Alabama dealing with the issue. But what would Jesus do?

Proponents and opponents of laws such as HB 56 each have the backing of the Bible, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest U.S. evangelical denominations.

"Basically those two positions are two sides of the same coin," Duke said, adding, "What we are failing to see at this point is a concerted effort to bring those sides to a comprehensive approach to what we call a just approach to the illegal immigration problem."

Duke said the SBC does not support broad amnesty, favors securing the border and enforcing existing laws but recognizes the need for some type of solution to the problem. He points to the group's website, where he said there are resources for pastors to draw from and explain the issue to their congregations.

"I would certainly encourage church leadership to engage congregations in a process of discovery and education in the issue of illegal immigration and the development of a Christian response to the plight of the illegal immigrant, as well as the impact on the rest of the nation." he said.

But attendance was sparse at last week's event in Birmingham, where organizers did not allow reporters out of fear that some pastors would not attend if their presence was publicly known.

"I think you are looking at people in local situations trying to address problems in their own ways," Duke said. "I think it probably reflects the reality that they are in conversation with each other and feel it is appropriate for themselves to resolve problems without outside interference."

The one point of agreements among all is the perceived failure of the federal government to address the illegal immigration issue .

"The Democrats failed," said Rodriguez, who has met with President Barack Obama and his advisers to discuss immigration reform. "President Obama and the Democrats had control of the government for three years and failed to deliver on their promise to the Latino community. The Republican Party has failed in its rhetoric. Their rhetoric has been anti-immigration, anti- Latino, nativist. Both parties have failed."

And Duke predicted that continued inaction at the federal level will result in states debating more laws like HB 56.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Alabama • Immigration

soundoff (367 Responses)
  1. Mike-Bell

    Since when did breaking the laws of the land stop being a sin?
    This seems to be another case where ministers that have a 'paying' following are worried about losing business. Ministers can't make a living if they don't have enough of a following based upon their charisma, political, or social influence. Too many base church attendance on who leads the congregation or what clique of influence they desire to associate with. Some of these conferences are more of a coalition of cult leaders than true ministers of the 'Gospel'.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Jesus

      The Latino & Latina base is a potentially huge revenue source. Franklyn Graham, Billy's son, made a very recent huge push for their bucks, I mean pesos. It really comes down o which evangelical huckster will outdo the other for the Latin donations.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  2. fukuandurmom

    The bible is a joke and so are you for believing that bs

    November 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Mike-Bell

      The enduring 'social principles' are less of a concern than the opportunist that thump the Bible to their own gain and 'Priest Craft'.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      The Bible is not a joke. It is a compilation of writings by very serious people over a period of many years. And it is held sacred by nearly half of the people alive on the Earth today (Muslim, Jew, and Christian). It's not a joke, but it was written a long time ago, and it is not a very accurate or impartial account of history. People, including yourself, see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. There are some scholars of the Bible, however, that may agree with you...

      November 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Jesus

      It's all about getting a bigger piece of the Latin donation pie.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  3. Truth Seeker

    When the Federal Government won't enforce laws that are already on the books its no wonder that States start making their own. It's no wonder the Roman Catholic church wants to block the law.....one word that was missing from the article and the first response is the word "Protestant". A word you don't hear as much any more for many have "protesting" and joined forces. A future one world order will be looking for a one world religion and they need more votes to combat the conservative right.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Mike-Bell

      One 'Religion' is not the answer. The secular 'Doctrine' being legislated as our 'State Religion' is just as bad or worse than some well known Church dictating our conduct and limiting our liberties.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • mane

      Did you hear President Obama has deported more illegals than any other president in modern times. Isn't deportation a representation of enforcement actions. Go ahead and spout your faux news garbage without stopping to think for yourself.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • 4sanity

      The Federal government not enforcing the laws already on the books ?! Really. Yet another example of a typical Republican talking point on immigration that is a) completely false and b) allows half the country's population to stick its head in the ground.

      The Federal government spends $billions on ICE and does a "heck of a job" to manage immigration – both legal and illegal. But people have this fantasy idea that it is possible to actually stop all "illegal immigrants" from entering the country or for effectively finding and removing them all.

      In order to do that, please hire another 100,000 ICE agents, establish concentration/internment camps, rewrite our legal system that guarantees habeus corpus (i.e. your day in court to challenge detention), submit to midnight raids, carry a biometric (fingerprint) Federal ID card with you at all times, decrease our GDP by 1.1 % annually, pay more for staple food items and have your Federal taxes increase. Alternatively, you could just establish an amnesty and a workable guest worker program ...... but the downside is a bruising of your sense of indignation that 12 million people caught a break. Of course the no cost,pragmatic solution would never fly. Just too sensible.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  4. 4sanity

    What would Jesus do ? He'd probably question first why we even have laws that restrict where people can go, live, work and pursue their lives in the way they see fit. Jesus certainly wouldn't have recognized the primacy of a "state" over basic human dignity. Having said that a social contract that allows us to interact with each other in a responsible and fair manner is an essential component of any society. When that contract is seen as unfair and non-responsive, people perceive it as immoral and break the rules en masse. So for anyone in the anti-immigration crowd on their pedestals decrying "illegal immigrants" as breaking the law, does your adherence to the law of the land include driving always at below the highway speed limit of 55 mph or not smoking pot ? And how many excuses can you come up with to rationalize your behavior to others or when you get caught ?

    November 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  5. Brian

    "Campo said that, if Jesus was alive today, he'd be in Alabama dealing with the issue. But what would Jesus do?"............................According to the Bible Jesus believed in the law. He said to "give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's." Illegal means against the law. Why is that so hard to understand?

    November 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  6. StevenB

    Exactly Mr Rodriguez – this is nothing more than an attempt to enact "Jim Crow Latino". Plain and simple.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  7. Joe

    The average illegal immigrant is a better citizen and a better human being than the average legal citizen.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Criminy

      I disagree with that.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • bob

      [citation needed]

      November 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  8. ray

    in the bible it says very clearly that the people should have nations. not everybody live in one nation. thats what i go by. not some rank amature multi culturalist. to weak , to defend his or her culture. and submits to this sickness. of borderless nations. you were given this country for your descendants. not for enemies of your descendants. these people will betray all of you one day. you can be sure. stupid people like that retart navy wife. dont kn ow that there ultimate goal. is to socilialize. then anex the southern u.s. to mexico. Whatever.....ill be long gone retired in austrilia by then. your grand parents if they where alive. would of disowned all of you. talk about disgrace.....thats what you people are to there ww 2. sacrifice. they saved the world. just so there anglo descendants can hand it over.........based on guilt and emotions.


    November 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Criminy

      You have some kind of problem with capitalization, spelling, spaces, and spelling. I found it very difficult to understand your point.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • klarg

      If you're going to call other people stupid it might hit with more impact if you did it with correct spelling and better grammar. Then you would not appear to be illiterate and bigoted.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      Unreal.. that a person of such profound study of the English-language version of The Bible would have not experienced the correct usage, and spelling, of those words. This is a specific interpretation of which race of people wrote the New Testament which, in turn, interprets the teachings of the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps you also neglected to read those books prior to the new covenant.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Ramona

      I hope for your sake Ray, that Australia doesn't have an entry exam requiring you to communicate in basic written English. Actually,for the rest of our sakes in the USA, I also hope they don't have one. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

      November 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • ray

      You whites are so stupid. That no wonder its so easy for them.
      So multi culturists. Let me ask you this. What happens when they don’t need you no more.
      Meaning they own everything here. They have half the offices. And they run most the cities towns everything. What you think happens to you mr or ms. Politically Correct white guy girl. Think any of them will celebrate you people. Once they are the majority and no longer your pets. You wait and see…….ill be in austrilia…….by then.
      Watching you people prob get evicted from here….once they run this joint.

      you people have no idea. what your dealing with. you are "dealing" with the descendants of the myan empire......they will over throw all of you. and re conquer this whole land. then dispose of you like rubbish. to be sure.....they are already....

      and in only 30 years. imagine 20. when we are retired.

      forget that ill be in austrilia.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Good Riddance, Ray

      Hey Ray...

      Based on what you have written (two posts), you would appear to be nothing but a very underecucated, racist piece of garbage - and that is being kind. You have nothing to support your bigotry and racism and your command of the english language cannot be much better, if any, than any of the illegal immigrants you are hoping to get rid of. What possible value do you bring to the table that any immigrant, illegal or otherwise, doesn't?

      People like you are never the answer to anything. You are the problem.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  9. Criminy

    After reading this article, it seems that Alabama will take the illegals because they are the Christian population that they are... and so all illegals should be funneled to Alabama. Get them out of my state, we don't want them.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  10. Alex

    In order for me to obtain my job in SOuth Korea, I need: a valid passport, a copy of my college diploma, references, approval from my place of work, a resume, AND an FBI criminal background check, apostileld, that takes 10 weeks to get.

    And for an illegal mexican to work in the US? Nada. The inJUstice department will fight for them at every turn. I just wish my country cared about illegals a fraction of what the ROK did. If a foreigner like me sneezes the wrong direction we are in danger of being thrown out.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      And what kind of work are you going to do in South Korea? Picking crops? Cleaning rooms? Maybe landscaping?

      November 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • klarg

      Were you picking lettuce and tomatoes?

      November 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  11. Quit your complainin'

    I think Christ would have said "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's"; oh wait, he did say that!

    Stop guessing what Jesus would do. We're under no obligation to financially support illegal immigrants. Neither are we obligated to support legal immigrants, but we do so out of the kindness of our American hearts. If you want to support illegal immigration, feel free to open up the spare bedrooms in your homes and spend your kid's college funds on groceries for your new guests. Stop asking guys like me to pay for the services rendered to illegal immigrants.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • klarg

      He also said whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • michael

      Christ was being sarcastic. ALL things are God's; Cesar must be at the service of the Lord. And it would be helpful to keep Matt 25: 31 and following in mind,

      November 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • RadicalModerate

      The Alabama law appears to make what you are suggesting illegal. Our laws are broken and unenforced. We have signs side by side which say "No trespassing" and "Help wanted". We can and must reform the laws to correct the mixed signals, strongly enforce them, and give current illegals a path to becoming legal. The liberal's inconsideration of the rule of law and the conservative's inconsideration of compassion is disconcerting.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  12. Alex

    Simply ridiculous

    November 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  13. Passive Aggresive

    Comment 8

    November 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  14. paul

    Calling evil good and good evil will not work. What is it about the word ILLEGAL these people don't understand?

    November 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      I'm sure a lot of Native Americans would agree with you, but they'd be calling for the whites to leave.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  15. Mennoknight

    In Canada it was the Evangelicals lead by a Baptist Preacher that brought in Health Care and Social Assistance in the 60's and 70's. I don't understand our Evangelical brothers and sisters in the South.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Mennoknight

      It was also Evangelicals that opened the doors for immigrants and it was Evangelicals who fought the hardest for social justice of ethnic minorities.
      The moral of the story is never get in bed with any one political party.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  16. beanDip

    Illegal is illegal, would you want a bunch of uninvited guests crashing your dinner party?? Stealing all your hard earned possessions and defalcating all over your carpet? This is not racist it's a matter of rightful residency. They all fly the flag of Mexico oh so proudly here in America, if they like it so much go back to friggin Mexico. We don't need your additional burden on us legal Americans.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Yeah? Then why are farmers in Alabama not able to harvest crops? It's because Latinos are too frightened to do the work. Oh what, you think Americans are going to do it? Really? Guess again.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • klarg

      People poop on your carpets? No wonder you're so filled with anger!

      November 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • trh

      tods not quite right.if i can make 100,000 a year picking peaches ,just let me know when i can start!

      November 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Mark J

      I totally agree! All non-Native Americans should immediately return to their country of origin and start waving flags.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  17. ray

    navy wife joined the cult too multi culturalisim.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      I have no idea what you are trying to say.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  18. klarg

    "Evangelicals" are all about earthly power, that is why the Alabama denominations will not speak out, they are more about the political status quo, than walking Jesus' path

    November 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  19. trh

    illigals are criminals the moment they step across the border.blacks were brought here legally. quit comparing the two.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Blacks were brought here legally? Really, the slave trade was legal? I think you are saying that blacks were forced here, Latinos aren't.

      But you know what, Latinos really are doing jobs Americans don't want. WHy do you think so many Alabama farms are going to lose their crops because no one will harvest them?

      November 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • beanDip

      Screw off todd we're talking about a whole other thing here dip.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • trh

      make me laugh.they are doing jobs americans will not except the pay for.and in the process undercutting everyone elses wages.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      no, beanDip, you're talking about the same thing.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Inability to Speak/Write English


      Your credibility is severely eroded when you display no command of the language that is both taught and spoken in this country. You hammer away at the illegal immigrants, but you write as if you were in first grade. If you think it does not matter, you are very much mistaken.

      You want higher wages because you are an American citizen? Show me you can write a coherent sentence that a fourth grade student wouldn't laugh at.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  20. The Retired Navy Wife

    Of course the evangelicals won't speak out...they're too busy staying cozy with the far right wing conservatives who are in favor of deporting anyone who is not white, anglo-saxon and subscribes to their political rhetoric and peculiar beliefs. In their eyes, any minority is subhuman. The evangelicals are nothing more than a subset of the conservative right who cloaks their political agenda in the guise of "religion". They make me ill. They are no more "christians" than my cat is...oh wait...my cat is not a hypocrite!

    November 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Keith

      So you believe, in the name of compassion, we should open our borders and let everyone flood in until this country turns into a sewer like Mexico?

      November 13, 2011 at 10:21 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.