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. Sean

    'Mirosal': I'm glad to hear that. I was drafted and served in Vietnam. After I was injured, I spent 10 months in the VA. I never took one dime of disability, even to this day. I regarded Iraq as big a lie as Vietnam. Good luck, writing out corrupt politicians! Both parties are on the take! They all leave office rich and mostly become lobbyists and sign book deals and do lecture tours. We're a nation of lemmings! Immigration isn't the issue, it's the business's exploiting them for a profit without doing any ID checks!

    November 14, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  2. MAC

    By Law All Legal Immigrants are required to carry ID showing they are legally in this country, this should be upheld too!

    November 14, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  3. MAC

    Religion has nothing to do with breaking the law. Legal immigrants are welcome, illegal immigrants are breaking the law. What the democrats and the Obama Administration are proposing will give amnesty and not prevent us from having 100 million illegal immigrants the next fight over illegal immigration. We need E-Verify for every job, tough punishment on hiring illegal immigrants and tough punishment on being an illegal immigrant. Also, the Fed. should uphold immigration laws.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • overextended

      did you follow up with your reps to see if they deserve to show up in 2012?

      November 14, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  4. Eddie

    Man, just look at the puss on this guy! This is NOT a happy man! Perhaps he misunderstood. It did not say "Go forth and be miserable."

    November 14, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  5. Sean

    'Today, over 100 million Americans – one third of the population – can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the country.' They showed up here generally with what they could carry, and generally uninvited! "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    November 14, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • overextended

      well, you see since then, they tamed the nation and tax all its inhabitants. They tax our air, our land, everything. And right now, they are handing out those citizens hard earned money to strangers. Commonly known as stealing.

      I can't go to mexico and sign up for welfare or any other country. I can't pop out a baby and get free food and lodging. What I would get from them is an escort to the border, or in some cases prison.

      It is not a country with vast wild territories and room to roam.

      Big difference a hundred years makes.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  6. Mirosal

    @ Sean ... I did that. I wrote both snail-mail and e-mail to W's White House about it, all I got back were form letters thanking me for writing. I also called the White House, and you can to. The number for the main WH switchboard is 202-456-1414. I was not a menber of the Guard or the reserves. My time was spent active in the Navy.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  7. Qularkono

    we can be merciful to all .... and still obey the laws of the land ... they are not mutually exclusive. Also, Romans teaches all people that God establishes all those in authority and we are to obey those in authority in all things EXCEPT when they tell us to disobey God. God doesn't allow for people to break immigration laws and He doesn't allow citizens to help people to break immigration laws. But, He does demand that we show mercy and respect to all. So we can feed and provide for illegal aliens while we encourage them to repent and stop breaking the law.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Evangelical

      Jesus's parents migrated to Egypt (most likely ILLIGALLY) in order to save Jesus's life. We often do not know why people take such a great risk coming to the US. Some are probably running to protect their children lives (from all that violence and corruption).

      November 14, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      First of all, god is a she. And she doesn't spend her time reading the laws that this stupid congress passes, or fails to pass. There ain't no Santy Claus.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:38 am |
  8. Galvhomme

    "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,"
    ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! When is the federal government going to deny tax free status to the Catholic church, or any other church for that matter, for taking a political stance on isues such as this? Tax the churches I say. God knows they have plenty of property and that tax revenue is desperately needed. Keep political activism out of the pulpit!!

    November 14, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  9. Blane

    Listen, they arent asking for a pint of blood....ARE you a legal citizen? they can ask me that anytime, i have to show show id and get groped just to get on an airplane............... show id, be legal or leave, crap.............

    November 14, 2011 at 1:25 am |
    • DeeCee2011

      Just another example of Republicans Off The Rails.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Blane is a Tea-Bagger

      Is that you, Rush? Glenn? Or just a Fux News robot trotting out the latest far-rightwing nutcase garbage? Completely worthless.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:50 am |
    • bigboxes

      Ah, I see... you don't mind a police state as long as whatever the "authorities" are asking for is what you feel comfortable with. Thank you for giving up my liberties and freedoms so YOU can feel more secure. Maybe you should run and sign up with this new American gestapo. After all, if they LOOK Latino they should not mind showing identification. :eyeroll

      November 14, 2011 at 2:16 am |
  10. Mirosal

    I have an idea. Get the troops out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the whole region. Send them back home to the USA. Quite a lot of them are reservists and National Guard. Ok then, for their 2 weeks of annual refresher training, put them on the border, patrolling. Hey, it IS called the NATIONAL Guard, right? So let them guard the nation's borders using the equipment they already have, like tanks, hum-vees 50-cal guns. There are a LOT of National guard and reservist companies and regiments to have a year-round rotation of troops to man the border. This way, they are still in-country, and still doing the job.

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

      Re: 'Hey, it IS called the NATIONAL Guard, right?' Why didn't you march on W's White House 10 years ago and demand this?

      November 14, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  11. paul

    May God bless and protect the law abiding immigrants in Alabama. You are welcomed with open arms. May God bless and protect the illegal immigrants in Alabama as you pack your bags and head for the Alabama border. You will be welcomed back when you decide to abide by U.S. and Alabama law and pay taxes like the rest of us.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  12. Rod C. Venger

    WE don't need to be educated. The illegals do, as do the churches. The Bible says to Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. We are to obey man-made laws and remain faithful to God laws as well. Illegals need to be educated on the law: they are breaking the law just by being here, and the churches, if they are rendering aid to them, are complicit in their law-breaking. That's not a good message to send to congregations or to God.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • Matthew

      So says the man using a 2,000 year old "history" book as his primary source of information...

      November 14, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Kevin

      "The Bible says..."

      Ah, now see? There's your problem.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • Andrew

      When one is debating the proper stance for a religious organization, I'm pretty sure bringing up the religious texts of that very same organization is, indeed, a valid argument.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Jim

      Sure, quoting the bible in this context would be valid, that is if one does so judiciously. This guy is just regergitating the usually flawed garbage that is so prevalent in the evangelical community.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Venger is Angry

      Using the reason you have put forth, there are literally thousands of business owners in this country that are breaking the law. If that is the case, do we prosecute them as well?

      November 14, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • Brian White

      Blind and uncritical adherence to Caesar's laws... is that what you are really defending? Everyone is breaking the sacred law of the USA except you and your blind congregation. Dissent is not tolerated because Caesar must be obeyed, Was Jesus; over-turning the tables of the usurers legal? No. Following your thinking, He should have been arrested for breaking the laws of Caesar. Ghandi, Martin Luther, Buddha; all law-breakers and therefore the law demands that they be arrested and silenced. Appolonius of Tyrana simply studied, meditated and performed some miracles greater than Jesus. He knew that his life work would have been destroyed by meddling in the affairs of the Romans. That being said, there are times when blind obedience to any law, or even to your conception of God leads to a spiritual, moral and intellectual dead end. Which pretty well describes where we are now.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  13. 23

    Did anyone check Samuel Rodriguez's papers to make he was legal?

    November 14, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • Papers...

      Shouldn't we check yours? Should we check what you do on the internet every day, you know, to make sure you aren't doing something illegal? Should we tap your phone to make sure you are on the up-and-up? If you forget your papers one day, should be toss you in jail until they can produced? If you are in a hurry for work and forget your papers and can't produce them at the local "Papers Checkpoint" and subsequently get tossed in jail and lose your job because you didn't come in that day, should we care that your rights were trampled upon?

      November 14, 2011 at 2:00 am |
  14. Bo

    @Martin12:08 I don't know the size of your lawn, or hedge,$50 sounds like an aweful lot, it must be large, but I bet there are kids in your neighborhood that would mow your lawn. have you ask? Or maybe you live in a neighborhood with pampered kids. I lived in So Ca, where only latinos worked in fast food places, but I moved to Colorado, and there are hardly any latinos working in fast food places, it is mostly highschool and college kids, and some senior citizens. In other words, leagal Americans will do the work, if not under bid.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Martin

      I could probably find someone if I tried hard enough.. but the market is flooded. Kids ARE pampered.. you are correct.. but how to " unpamper"?
      When I was growing up I mowed laws.. baled hay, pumped gas etc.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Touchdown

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this whole Alabama thing in regards to ILLEGAL immigration? And, I think the Catholic Church would do best to clean its own house before meddling into the political arena of illegal immigration.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:12 am |
    • Touchdown is more like a Blocked Field Goal

      So, the Catholic Church can't take a stance on issues of morality because a small percentage of priests commit unpeakable crimes? Maybe we should look into your past and see if you are qualified to judge anyone else. You seem to be the perfect person since you can decide who has the right to an opinion and who doesn't. Pathetic.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:03 am |
  15. us1776

    The focus of hate in America has shifted to Latinos and other immigrant populations.

    Even if not one more Latino could enter the U.S. this hate would continue.

    It is time to stand up against all of this GOP oppression and subjugation.

    It is time to recognize that despite the president enforcing the quotas that the GOP has gone back on its promise of immigration reform.

    We must re-elect Democrats to all positions so that we have a president and congress that has the power and votes to implement immigration reform.


    November 14, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • Martin

      You think union supported Democrats want to legalize all these people? NOT!!! The reason it is not done is because NEITHER side wants it done.

      Did you ever wonder why Obama did jam it through like he jammed through healthcare?

      November 14, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • Touchdown

      The "hate" as you refer to, has shifted to illegal immigration – not legal immigration. There is a difference.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • us1776

      Martin, yes b/c it will strengthen the force of labor in this country. Labor has been severely beaten down and subjugated over the past 30 years.

      The GOP told the president that they would engage in immigration reform if he would enforce the quotas. So Obama rigorously enforced the quotas and what did the GOP do? They reneged on their promise and refused to engage in immigration reform. So now the only chance for immigration reform is by electing both Obama and a Democratic Congress.


      November 14, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Martin is Wrong

      President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants in his short time in office than George W. Bush did in his eight years. He is enforcing tha law as much as the resources available for the job allow him to do so. The Republicans will not talk immigration reform even though Obama as hasked them to do so.

      The health care law? Jammed it in? Unless I missed something, the healthcare law reads nearly verbatim the law that the neo-cons proposed as an alternate to Hilary Clinton's failed attempt to get universal health care in the 1990's. You write "jammed" as if he didn't ask for the republicans to chime in - he begged them to do so. He allowed their amendments tothe law and then when those amendments were granted, they still voted against it. By the way, it did pass legally. Congress voted on it and he signed it. That is how laws get passed in this country.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:11 am |
    • overextended

      BS dude. No one has hate for latinos.

      Taxpayers are a little chaffed at paying for services we ourselves do not get.

      Learn to differentiate between the two.

      And, so's you know, the mexican border is currently the world highway for illegal immigration from countries whose chaps like blowing up other people. For religion not drugs.

      Drop the race card, most everyone is sick of that divisive political crapola. It benefits NO ONE but politicians. You and me, not a bit of benefit, as a matter of fact, quite the contrary.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  16. Dave Varney, NYC

    The organized churches and the religions they propagate need to decide once and for if they stand up for social justice and equality for all human beings? If I understand the message of Jesus Christ, it is about forgiveness, loving your fellow human being, and standing up for those who marginalized by the majority, like illegal immigrants, gays & lesbians, people of color, people of other religious beliefs, and all life being sacred. YOU CANNOT HAVE ALL ONE WAY! If you spread a message of hate and bigotry, you and contradicting your Gods quintessential commandments. Picking and choosing what you want to support sends the wrong message.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Phil

      Picking and choosing what goes in that book of fiction you call "the word of god" applies also. Do you actually believe what it says? Have you read it from beginning to end? Not just parts of it...the whole thing. It spreads just as many messages of hate toward groups who believe differently.

      The world WOULD be a better place if religion did not exist.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Sam

      Right On NYC...well said!

      November 14, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Martin

      The Soviet Union is a place that was purged of religion..They packed entire towns up in box cars and worked them to death in work camps. . yet that pesky problem remained.. sinful man.. Despite being a nation full of atheists..they taught it in school.. it had a record of barbarism that few can match. Can't blame Jesus for that one friends.

      People kill over shoe color, jealous rage, a pack of smokes.. no other reason required.
      You atheists are fooling yourself if you think eliminating religion will make the world more moral.

      No it just conflates your ego to point your finger and claim some kind of intellectual superiority.. Atheism is entirely ego and pride driven.

      "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"

      November 14, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Phil

      Perhaps I should rephrase what I said, Martin.

      The would would be a 'different' place without religion. There wouldn't be any religious wars. But, yes, people would still kill over shoes and cigarettes... But they wouldn't be doing it in the name of 'god'.

      It's my understanding as a former catholic that god will strike down those who don't believe. I've made it exactly 38 years (today is my birthday) and I'm still here.

      To me, religion just doesn't make logical sense. But in reality, it's sad to think that many have been killed for what they believe in - and for what they choose not to believe in. It's not the muslims, the jews, the christians...even the atheists... There are extremists in every facet of life...and some go just a bit too far to make a point.

      I'd rather just sit here and stir things up and inject my opinion...which is all it really is in the grand scheme of things. I can't prove god doesn't exist just as much as you can prove that god does exist. In the end, we're all the same - mortal beings, who can only hope to add some contribution to the planet before our death.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Martin

      I like you Phil! Congratulations.. I think you're the first atheist/agnostic ?? ( not sure which) on this board who has not responded to me with a flood of insults and nonsense!

      I think one of the errors that skeptics make is to dismiss everything out of the Bible immediately, without addressing the content. If a Scripture says "Thou shalt not kill" Can we not discuss that idea at face value rather then flipping out and saying "The Bible is ^$%#&#("
      Jesus spoke some of the most fantastic words ever spoken, but people are so close-minded and reactionary, that we can't even talk about concepts if we hint the idea may have come from the Bible.
      MAtt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  17. Dave Varney, NYC

    The organized churches and the relines they propagate need to decide once and for if they stand up for social justice and equality for all human beings? If I understand the message of Jesus Christ, it is about forgiveness, loving your fellow human being, and standing up for those who marginalized by the majority, like illegal immigrants, gays & lesbians, people of color, people of other religious beliefs, and all life being sacred. YOU CANNOT HAVE ALL ONE WAY! If you spread a message of hate and bigotry, you and contradicting your Gods quintessential commandments. Picking and choosing what you want to support sends the wrong message.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • sockpuppet

      yeah, but whaddaya gonna do? I mean, I feel like I am banging my head against a wall with the "right wing christians" I don't know when or where it happened, but they lost the message along the way.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  18. sockpuppet

    um are the trying to tell preachers that they should be delivering political messages from the pulpits to their congregations? Because last I heard, that would ruin their tax exempt status. I'm against these harsh anti-immigrant laws, but I am also against mixing church and politics. I have quit any and all churches that started telling me how to vote on the issues.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Dan

      Hiya. Want to beat your wife? The Bible has a verse to justify that. Want to kill your kid? The Bible has a verse to justify that. Want to own slaves? The Bible has a verse to justify that. Want to stone your neighbor for serving shrimp at last week's BBQ? The Bible has a verse to justify that. You christians think you can justify anything at any time with a Bible verse but choose to repeatedly ignore the ones telling you to love your damn neighbor.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  19. Dante

    Jesus loves us all. He died for us all. All colors...all nationalities...


    November 14, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Phil

      It's also alright to say that I don't believe in fairytales. If you're an atheist, be proud of who you are.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm quite happy to be an atheist. I get no comfort from strangers telling me that Jesus loves me. Jesus may or may not have existed, but at any rate has been dead for 2000 years. There isn't a shred of evidence that indicates he was divine and single book that exists to record him was written well after his death and contradicts itself repeatedly. "Jesus loves you" is an empty phrase.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      Jesus died because the Roman and Jewish authorities thought he was a threat to civil order. Saul of Tarsus made all the rest of that crap up about dying for sins, and you idiots are STILL buying it. Why would an infinite deity require her "son" to pay her anything ?

      November 14, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • TheTruthFairy

      If you watched Dante's clip, you might be needing this one.


      November 14, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  20. Bo

    @Michael post 10:29 Of course I know that God owns the earth. I was focusing on what Christ would say if He were here, and that is the way I believe He would react. I could have used Rom 13:1-7, which is a stronger argument that the illegals should not be here. And there are much stronger texts than Matt 25:31 that God owns all that is in the earth. Hint: Psalms

    November 14, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Phil

      I'm sorry - you said "god owns earth"? That's dumb. Do you know how many planets are out there in our galaxy alone, not to mention the other billions of galaxies out there... Open your mind to reality...let common sense flow freely. When you do, you'll quickly realize that there never was a god.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Fred Evil

      I love when people quote works of fiction as if they're some sort of 'evidence' or 'proof.'

      November 14, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • tallulah13

      It's pretty rude of god to claim earth, considering he won't even provide proof of his existence.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      When are people going to stop using a 2000 year old collection of mistranslated letters to justify their lives. How ridiculous.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • JA

      Blessed are those who do not see, but yet believe.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:15 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.