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. David Stutz

    The most compassionate thing we can do is remove illegals to develop their own countries economies and to bravely face their own challenges and not reward their dependency on us with free stuff and employment which is bankrupting local economies and taking away jobs from lesser skilled Americans. It's self destruction to not limit illegal immigration and putting a stop to it is an act of true compassion and intelligence.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  2. William

    I live in Alabama and am an Episcopalian. However, I disagree with my church leaders. You have to live here to see that the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS are bleeding our schools, our medical system, and our resources for poverty completely and totally dry. Crime and drugs have increased because of the illegals, and our communities have suffered. They trade with the Hispanic merchants only, and pay no taxes for using our schools, highways, and medical facilities. Many have been here for ten years or more and still speak no English. They have no driver's licenses, no auto insurance, and when charged with a crime flee back across the border. There simplly is no positive outcome for people who have entered this country ILLEGALLY and take from our country and our culture with not contributions from them.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Russ

      That's silly. Alabama has had some of the worst schools in the country for decades. Alabama, Mississippi and N. Fla are always around the top of the charts for low wages, unemployment, and illiteracy rates. Illegal immigrants have been picking crops from Texas to North Carolina for decades (since the 60s), but you're blaming them for recent increases in crime and drug abuse? I think you need to look at your state government, which has bowed to agrifarm pressure to keep wages low, for a reason why crime and drug abuse are problems for your state. Low wages mean less tax and fewer home owners. Few home owners and low property taxes mean poor schools. Poor schools mean illiterate students. Illiterate students in a state with low wages... drugs. Congrats. Latinos are your boogey man. Your real problem is corporate farms and the GOP.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • ray


      open border guy. cafateria patriot. russ hasnt answered what happens when these people are no longer anybodies pets. russ thinks they are regular people. Russ also thinks that latinos will treat whites with fairness when they are the majority. you follow or listen to people like russ.....?......and you guys will be........living with eskimos in alaska.

      boy talk about polish the night before the nazis rolled in.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Russ

      You make a lot of assumptions about how latinos will act, ray. They have a word for the irrational fear of other cultures. Xenophobia. Yours is a mindset that needs to die out, just like fear of blacks marrying whites, or gay marriage, or any of the other myriad ideas based in the fear of people not like you. The rest of us aren't afraid of our neighbors. You may think you're clued in to the real deal, but really you're just afraid. And it's sad.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • ray

      russ i can tell you never lived in new york miami chicago LA ask those whites there. about latino majority. before you say anything else to me

      November 14, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  3. Bo

    Again, this is not a belief issue! This is a legal issue, so why is here? Someone asked, what would Jesus do? That question has already been answered, "Render unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser's." Someone may try to relate this to the woman brought in adultry, but remember, Christ did not over look her sin, He told her to "...go and sin no more." So, with the illegals–render to Ceaser: do what the law says, and also,GO and sin no more! So, my take; the illegals should return to their own country, and sin no more. My advice to these evanelistics; do what you need to do, but also, go to the Bible, not the politicians.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Russ

      That doesn't make any sense. These Christian groups are acting AGAINST politicians (challenging a law politicians passed), BECAUSE of their faith... so your advice appears to be "go to the politicians, and not to the Bible."

      November 14, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  4. Salero21

    I certainly hope someone is picking up all the produce of the farms, milking the cows, washing the dishes etc etc.

    In short I hope someone is doing ALL of the Jobs and ALL of the work that Lazy, Obese, Overweight and Welfare addicted americans can't and won't, do. Otherwise we'll need to import ALL of these.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  5. The Dude

    2 groups of ignorant retards. I hope they both die.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  6. rock woman

    "...organizers did not allow reporters out of fear that some pastors would not attend if their presence was publicly known."

    That doesn't say much for the pastors of Alabama. It says even less for the people to whom they minister.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  7. clearfog

    Hispanic evangelicos versus White evangelicos. Anyone ever heard of bum fights?

    November 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  8. ray

    its pointless patriots

    these multi cultural whites. the reason for this problem , are bent on letting this take place. Its easy to have those opinions most of these whites talking
    have never lived around them worked for them.

    You see the problem that these multi culturalists have,

    is that they embrace latinos cause they view them as pets. (in the dopey anglo brain) they view these people as cutting there lawns , and trimming there trees forever.......lloll....

    what they dont know is there is a day coming (be cause of them whites) where these people will be your pets.

    they will run every thing here. They will re conquer this lands. replace the culture even laws and system of goverment everything.

    then .....what to become of the freindly whimpy whites...

    ...lloll..........what ya think.......???........

    November 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Russ

      I think it's irrelevant what color the people who "run everything" are. Black Presidents, Latino Presidents, whatever. Being white should give me no special status. I take no pride in being white (which is different than being American), and I have no fear of a day when whites aren't the majority. Elect good people, not necessarily white people.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Pete

      "what ya think?" Methinks you are the racist.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  9. hueygunner

    When I can disobey Mexico's laws and take my firearms south of the Border to hunt, then it will be okay to disregard our American laws.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Gun Happy

      Yeah, right tough guy...

      Take your guns south of the border. I'll give you about 24 hours. You will not last long and we'll read the story about an American mor0n that got trigger happy in Mexico and is coming back in a body bag. Good luck with that.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  10. john

    I've never heard a major Republican candidate for office or government official actually say anything " anti-latino" They simply want the laws enforced. A couple years of aggressive enforcement of immigration law at workplaces and millions would leave. Once the flow of illegal immigrants into America becomes a small trickle and once it is established that the illegal immigrant population is declining dramatically then.. perhaps exceptions can be made. We can't do that now because making life easier for illegal immigrants ( sad to say it) only encourages more of it.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Republican Candidate

      There is a major republican candidate for president? Who knew? Certainly that "candidate" hasn't yet taken part in any of the "debates" the neo-cons have had thus far.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  11. David Johnson

    Gee, Evangelicals appear to be racists. Much of the Republican Tea Party are Evangelicals. Much of the cuts to programs for the poor will affect minorities more than any others. Why would you vote for a Party that wishes you weren't in this country?

    Evangelicals make me want to puke.

    Vote for the Dems.


    November 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  12. bob

    I found this bit of knowledge interesting. If you illegally enter the country one time without prior attempts or without an application for entry that was previously denied, you've committed a civil infraction, not a criminal infraction. You can't be deported unless you come to the attention of the authorities by committing a separate crime.

    In order for entry to be a criminal, felonious offense, illegals have to enter or attempt to enter after being turned away previously/deported.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • hueygunner

      A misdemeanor is still a crime. Go check out the tens of thousands of Americans who are in jails for committing them.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • bob

      I was mistaken, illegal immigration is a civil misdemeanor. But what you are talking about hueygunne are criminal misdemeanors.

      You don't go to jail for standalone civil misdemeanors.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • bob

      But if the illegal had entered the US after being turned away, THEN the simple act of crossing the border becomes a criminal act by definition.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  13. hueygunner

    Seven billion people cannot live in the USA. Time to start enforcing the law.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Exxagerate Much?

      There are barely seven billion people on this planet. Your point is completely lost when you throw out numbers that are so incredibly wrong.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  14. Wo0F

    You know that Jesus was brown don't you?

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

      Where's your proof?

      November 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Huey is Dumb


      Just because an artist (in America or in an anglo-saxon country) sculpts a form of Jeses and depcts him as lily white, does not mean he was that. This has been studied seriously before and considering where he was born and the typical people that lived there during that time, he could not possibly have looked like your neighbor with long hair. Jesus was not white.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  15. WOT

    If I go to another country without a passport, there would be trouble for me ! Living off the dead is called ____! The USA is Dead!

    November 13, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  16. Larry

    To Charge Nurse Betty: The answer to your question is through out the New Testament of the Holy Bible should you care to read it. A RED letter edition might be a helpful aid to you.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  17. icedawg

    If I remember correctly one of the original purposes of the federal government was to secure the US borders. If that is the case then the present and previous administrations going way back have failed to do so. Untold numbers have been allowed by the federal government to enter the country illegally because it has not secured the borders. Now what? Do you think that it is going to organize a witch hunt and hunt down all the illegals that are now here? Impractical and impossible. This is the result of the failure of the federal government. Though states are attempting to address the issue on their own they will ultimately fail because the problem is of such monumental proportion that it is even beyond their resources to really address. And unless the federal government secures the borders then the problem will only continue to grow.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      Well, icedawg, How big is this "problem" anyway. I mean, is this Invasion U.S.A. or something? Are they demolishing serene suburban neighborhoods and robbing Fort Knox? Agriculture in the US has always used "migrant" labor, and the "border" states have always exploited "wetbacks" for cheap (or slave) labor. Paranoia will destroy ya.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • hueygunner

      OrangeW3dge - Go to California and Texas and you'll see how big the problem is.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • bob

      hueygunner is right. Those who defend illegal immigration as a good thing don't usually live in the places where illegal immigration is a problem.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Bob...Bob...Bob...

      Hueygunner is a mess. Period.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  18. Larry R. Coulter

    To BrianLL: AMEN brother, AMEN

    November 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  19. ray

    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.....they have blown a hole open through that border and have penetrated too everywhere.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • The Myans


      The Myans also say the world will end in 2012. If they were so great, why did they disappear? And if they are right, then the world will end in 2012, which means none of this matters very much. Go away, Ray.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Mirosal

      2 things here ... one .. it's spelled MAYAN ... get the name right, ok? and two .... the Mayan empire was conquered by the Spaniards in the 1500's ... over 450 years ago. They did this with firearms as well as the Mayans not having a natural immunity against the diseases that the Spaniards brought eith them, like mumps, measles, smallpox, etc. etc. I suppose the Incan and Azrec empires will rise again too?

      November 14, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  20. BrianLL

    What part of "illegal" do people not understand? Illegal is...illegal. If I break the law, I have acted illegally. Guess what happens? I go to jail.
    These people are here...illegally. ILLEGAL. What is so difficult to understand about that? They should be deported. They do not have a right to public services here. Period. If you house a known criminal, say a murderer, guess what? You are aiding a criminal..you are committing an illegal act as well. Same goes for housing illegal immigrants. So simple, really.
    As for what would Jesus do, well, his answer when asked by zealots in His day was "render unto Ceasar what is Ceasars, unto God what is Gods." They tried to get him involved politically, but He would have none of it. His concern was for salvation, not politics. So that answers the question of what Jesus would do today in Alabama. Nothing, politically.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      Where exactly does Jesus ever say anything about "salvation", or use that term ?

      November 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Robita

      As usual... Simple mind, simple argument. You obvious bigots don't care about the legality of anything. Just be honest, you don't like latino people. You are a bigot, you fear things that are not part of your very narrow world view.

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

      I wonder if Jesus had to show his papers when he traveled?

      November 13, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Russ

      I think it's simplistic to say that Jesus would avoid the issue in the interest of remaining apolitical. I mean, He certainly took stands against the law when He saw it to be unjust. The question, then, is whether we are being just – not with regard to the laws of man, but with regard to the teachings of Christ – in our treatment of immigrants. Obviously, the leadership of the majority of Christian congregations says that we are not, but if you want to debate them on it, "Well, Jesus wasn't a politician," is a pretty flimsy platform.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • ray

      robita being honest we dont like latino people. screw your soccer your lanuage. and your lack of respect for anything. and your innocent march accross this land. they are stupid im not. to me your people want to depose the language the culture the history the anglo norms and ways. and the anglo society. think im stupid.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Salero21

      Ex. 22:21 "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

      EX 23:9 "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.

      So the above should be a good example on how to deal in situations like these. Especially in the case of the descendants of former slaves of the English Feudalim system and the Pilgrims. Who according to history left England in search of FREEDOM of Religion.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
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.