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. Passive Agressive

    Just let them go pick the friggin' fruit already. Who cares. You all won't do it and neither will I.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • wigglwagon

      Okay, that takes care of the about 2% of them that pick fruit. What should we do with the other 98% who are forcing legal residents into unemployment and poverty?

      November 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Passive Agressive

      Let them pick fruit too!

      November 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  2. Passive Agressive

    Comment 237

    November 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  3. Brad

    I read in the Economist that "roughly 3% of the state’s population is foreign-born, compared with 12.5% nationwide". Alabama is not being overwhelmed by a wave of illegal immigrants (or immigrants of any kind). Alabama's law is just a way of saying "I'm more conservative than thou". I'm encouraged that people of faith are coming forward and pointing out that such conservatism is not at all consistent with the teachings of Christ. The illegals are among the most vulnerable people in our society, but they are being exploited for the sake of political posturing.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • hippypoet

      your last sentence was perfect and true... but this is not – consistent with the teachings of Christ.. how is one to know beyond a reasonible doubt that what we think he taught is truly what was...hummm? jesus didn't write anything down nor did ANY of his direct followers... so his words aren't his at all!

      November 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Brad

      Christ did say "They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

      November 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • hippypoet

      brad my boy you are only telling me what others claim jesus said... again, he never wrote anything down nor did any of his followers... the closest thing to jesus was still written near 60 – 80 years after his death.... i don't know about you, but i forget what i ate for dinner last night never mind 60 years ago! plus the average lifespan was only 35-40 at best, your source is most likely a third or even forth party – now how word for word do you really wanna take that dude? !!

      November 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • J.W

      Peter and John were both direct followers of Jesus, and there are writings by them in the Bible.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • hippypoet

      no sir, peter's "writtings" were letters, not about the teachings of jesus but to peoples like the carinthians about there trubles and possible solutions... and john is not found in the bible – that was a different john, the one who lived circa 91 a.d. is the one you talking about. And all have been tranlated from the original hebrew into greek then latin, the words have been changed, the meanings changed – its not the same.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • J.W

      I guess it has been disputed, but some have said that the book of Mark was written by a man who worked for Peter, and that Peter is the narrator of that book. There were other writings that are not in the Bible by people who knew Jesus as well, such as Thomas and Nicodemus.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Brad

      hippypoet – written, in some cases, by people who knew Christ. The tradition that Matthew's gospel, which I quoted, was written by Matthew dates from around 100 – 150 AD. People assert that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address as we know it on evidence of similar strength to what is used to support the Synoptic Gospels.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • hippypoet


      true, but there is one issue with those that are not found in the bible – the reason for them not being allowed in and to be canonized is an ongoing debate – the carbon dating places those "gospels" like that of nicodemus at around the first century or alittle after, so they could have been written by those direct followers...and perhaps the only reason why i can argue that the others weren't is because of the times they were rewritten and changed. Time will either tell or keep hidden that to which many place there lives in. Eitherway – I can still argue that because there are no writting jesus himself, that all writtings are but imitations of the original speech.

      @Brad – you just said a year that is completely after the life of jesus -how does that prove your argument? you said 100-150 a.d. thats 70-130 years after his death... thats not very close, and when people were dieing at the ripe old age of 35, a 70 year span could have seen three generations of folks due to sickness or war, or famine, whatever – you get the point.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • J.W

      I can't remember the historian's name but one of the early church historians wrote that Matthew was not written directly by Matthew, but uses some of the things that Matthew did write, and I guess kind of pieces them together.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i think i know who your thinking of... he was a historian around 200 a.d. who was a sercet christian and who also wrote about the gospels of judus and mary amoungst others – not saying they were good but he damned them for being works of fake... there is also where the council of nicea based some of there reason from as to why some gospels weren't allowed in. I can't remember his name either – i will get back to you on that thou... it will bug me till i find out.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Peter and John were both direct followers of Jesus, and there are writings by them in the Bible."

      wrong...the people who wrote about Jesus never knew the man.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Martin

      hippy poet: have you ever reviewed Josh McDowells "Evidence that Demands a Verdict"? He was an atheist who decided to disprove Christianity and ended up a Christian Apologist.

      One textual criticism rule that most critics these days ignore is giving the text the benefit of the doubt.
      For example. Luke explicitly says in his introduction to the Book of Luke that he personally investigated these claims:

      Luke1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

      So Luke is explicitly saying that he investigated everything. He was a doctor and a very reliable historian. Yet critics call his writing myths, fables. There is no other myth that has a preface like this. You must at the outset call the author a liar.

      November 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  4. cat

    But Obama gave 300,000 work permits that will lead to citizenship also.

    November 14, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  5. cat

    Just self deport , take all your kids and Go!!!

    November 14, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • abinadi

      These are people – not junk. God don't make no junk. Most don't even want citizenship. Treat them well, help them get ahead, and then send them back to precipitate change in their own countries. That is the long term solution.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • hippypoet

      hey there buddy, if most don't want citizenship then when there visa expires, they best get the fuk out... good and simple. Them being here after is against the law!

      November 14, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Nonimus

      So are we supposed to be the trainer, supporter, and financial seed to the citizens of other countries?

      November 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Brad

      @Nonimus – We Americans could hope to be better than what we are and be these things and more. We have a talent for cornering the world's resources and wealth. We could use it to a better purpose than self-gratification.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Perhaps, perhaps not. Is such charity really a good thing in the long run? Before you say we can do better, you may need to define what exactly is better and for whom.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  6. hippypoet

    I"m unsure on what the details were on the law passed, but from the nations actions in the past fews months i can guess.... Rhode Island passed a law concerning immagration... it wasn't a very good law. Rhode Island passed a law that allowed illegals who live in the state to get the in-state deal for the colleges – i think thats bs... if they want the same rights and freedoms as citizens, then become one and stop your whinning. I for one, don't think its a whole lot to ask a person who wishes to stay in a country they may love or not, but yet work and live in to take a citizenship test and become a citizen especially if they are going to be given the privilages of those who are citizens by birth-right or those that took the test. Its a matter of fair play for all parties...

    November 14, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • abinadi

      It's not that simple. The immigrants I know came here to survive – it was life or death or near it. They didn't have time to consider citizenship. If we could address their basic needs, food and shelter, then we could talk to them about citizenship. The other approach would be to address their shoddy governments that are causing this problem. We have here the exact same problem of prerevolutionary France. The wealth needs to be redistributed in South America through revolution or, preferably, a peaceful means. A person who is hungry is going to do anything to survive – anything!

      November 14, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • hippypoet

      i did say that on the issue above i don't have the full details, i am only commenting on the issue of illegals.
      i know some came here to survive, but others came because of family, money,whatever – the reason vary.. all i'm saying is that if you are from another contry and want the same rights and privilages as the citizens, then become one... in my opinion, if the place you left is that bad, and this place is that good, why skip steps to be what you ultimately want – just take the proper steps...its not hard... whats to fear by taking the test ? I don't mean to be insensitive, but this is how i feel...

      November 14, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Trish

      abinadi: most illegal immigrates have paid thousands of dollars to get into the country. If you have that kind of cash you are not starving. People in other parts of the world who do not have easy access to our borders are starving and have no money. Are you going to give them a boat ride here?

      November 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Brad

      @Trish – I guess they made a bad choice. In our neighborhood you can have all your yard work done for about $25. That is the going rate, but I'm told you can pay less if in cash. I also hear you can just stiff the workers if you want – they aren't going to have you up in small claims court. Takes a while to recover thousands of dollars with a job like that.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  7. generalno

    This is just one of a hundred reasons why hundreds of thousands of Christians have stopped going to church and no longer contribute to them.

    November 14, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • abinadi

      You need to pay a little more attention to your preacher's sermons. 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not acharity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. brooksjk

    The Four Pillars of the Kingdom

    Some of us approach our faith much like the fearful servant in the Parable of the Talents. We take what little we have been given and bury it, never seeking to grow it into some thing more, certainly not a faith that would lead Christ to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."
    Sadly, for many people, their religion is largely a matter of proximity. Author and noted atheist, Bertrand Russell, said this:
    “…people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the rest.”
    It is hard to argue against that point. Do we really choose our faith or is it largely chosen for us by our parents and the culture into which we happen to be born?
    Available now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.



    November 14, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  9. steve

    I come for visit, get treated regal,
    So I stay, who care I illegal?
    I cross border, poor and broke,
    Take bus, see employment folk.
    Nice man treat me good in there,
    Say I need to see welfare.
    Welfare say, "You come no more,
    We send cash right to your door."
    Welfare checks, they make you

    Medicaid it keep you healthy!
    By and by, I got plenty money,
    Thanks to you, American dummy.
    Write to friends in motherland,
    Tell them come as fast as you can.
    They come in rags and Chebby

    I buy big house with welfare bucks.
    They come here, we live together,
    More welfare checks, it gets better!
    Fourteen families they moving in,
    But neighbor's patience wearing thin.
    Finally, white guy moves away,
    Now I buy his house, and then I say,
    "Find more aliens for house to rent."

    And in the yard I put a tent.
    Send for family (they just trash),
    But they, too, draw the welfare cash!
    Everything is mucho good,
    And soon we own the neighborhood.
    We have hobby–it's called breeding,
    Welfare pay for baby feeding.
    Kids need dentist? Wife need pills?
    We get free! We got no bills!

    American crazy! He pay all year,
    To keep welfare running here.
    We think America darn good place!
    Too darn good for the white man

    If they no like us, they can go,
    Got lots of room in Mexico

    November 14, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • abinadi

      Nice poem, but you can't stop these people from coming any more than you can stop a flood – they are hungry! If you really want to do something, contribute to KIVA or Grameen Bank. These organizations lend money to the poor and build them up in their own country.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  10. bud

    So you're all against those Passports and Customs thingies?

    November 14, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Mirosal

      oh no no no not at all!!!! If you have a passport, the proper visas filed, go through Customs upon entry ... by ALL MEANS, welcome to the United States!!! File the appropriate imigration forms, sign the guest book when you enter, then you're welcome to avail yourself of everything this country has to offer. I'll even show you around

      November 14, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  11. MartinT

    Well, Evangelicals have to challenge someone or something, it's their nature. I suppose fanatics come in all races, shapes, colors, sizes... lunacy knows no bigotry....

    November 14, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      They do tend to have their noses in everyone's business.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  12. Reality

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


    November 14, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • MartinT

      Cut my own grass??? Are you Mad Man??? I will say that I did work on a farm one summer picking green beans in the South in the Heat, and I'll tell you it was HARD work. I was young and stupid enough to sweat it out, but I was amazed at the efficiency of the Mexican workers. Then I had the opportunity to work for a tomatoe farmer in SC and again I was amazed at the efficiency and speed in which the migrant workers were able to work together to get the job done. Later, my brother hired a group of four Mexican builders who on their time off from their "real" job, built his pool house in four days, without a blueprint and under budget. Americans can no longer compete with this.

      November 14, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • Trish

      Martin T: you are right, American's cannot compete with illegals when people like your brother laugh in the face of current laws. If 4 Americans built your brothers pool house they would of had to follow the laws of the Federal, State, and County he lives in. They would need plans, permits, and inspections. Funny how that works.

      November 14, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  13. Passive Aggresive

    Comment 207

    November 14, 2011 at 5:33 am |
  14. wigglwagon

    "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."

    The proponents of illegal immigration only believe in justice and mercy for the illegal aliens. As far as they are concerned, the legal resident families who are forced into unemployment and poverty by the illegals are just collateral damage and deserve no justice or mercy!!!

    There is no middle ground. Either we leave the illegal aliens employed at abysmal wages and no benefits or we get rid of them and let the legal residents go back to work at wages and benefits that are determined by the supply and demand of the American market.

    November 14, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  15. H.L.

    Hmmm. Maybe if we send complaining churches the bill for illegal's healthcare and education, they would change their tune.

    November 14, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  16. Joe citizen abroad

    What would Jesus do? People are going hungry. Feed them. People are being turned out of their homes. Find them a place to stay. People are dying from lack of proper healthcare. Nurse them. Families are left fatherless or motherless from war. Comfort them. He would minister to those people...legal or illegal. And leave the policy making to the government.

    November 14, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • Mirosal

      Don't you see the problem though? Religious "leaders" want to tell the government how to make policy They lobby their views and do their all to get Congress to vote how THEY want. Now I'm just waiting for some televangelist to say that Congress isn't doing what "god" wants them to do.

      November 14, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • What If


      Very noble, compassionate thoughts. The trouble is that Jesus (according to the lore) simply wiggled his nose and food and healing appeared out of thin air. Make it so, Number One...

      November 14, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Jonesyman

      @Mirosal – I know it's crazy to think that religious people would want policy makers to listen to their wacky ideas the same way that unions, political action groups, NGO's, corporations, actors, political parties, the Occupy movement ... etc. want them to listen. Honestly, who said they were equal citizens in a free democracy?

      November 14, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • TR6

      Yes and he told Christians to pick up the bill for it, not the Roman government

      November 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • TR6

      Yes and he told Christians to pick up the bill for it, not the Romans

      November 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • TR6

      Yes and he told Christians to pay for it, not the Romans

      November 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  17. Michael


    November 14, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      At the risk of imitating HS, AMEN.

      November 14, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Tom-the blasphemy!! (of both the mention of HS and that other word)

      November 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Mea Culpa.

      November 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  18. mm

    This guy is saying, "It is a repeat of the chapter lived by African-Americans, but now the African-Americans are Latinos and immigrants." What! African Americans were not in this country illegally! They were brought here and had no place to go back to to call home. Their children were born here. A person (regardless of race or color) who comes into this country illegally is breaking the law. African Americans did not break the law when they were brought to this country.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Epimetheus

      I think that is one of the most stupid and vapid arguments I have ever heard.

      November 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  19. mm

    Is the church condoning wrong doing? I mean if someone is in this country illegally, then that person is breaking the law. Is the church saying it's okay to break the law? Please explain what I'm missing here.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  20. Sean

    MAC: 'democrats and the Obama Administration are proposing will give amnesty', learn your history. The GOP guru Ronald Reagan was the last POTUS to grant millions of illegals amnesty. McCain wanted to do it at one time too. Obama deported more illegals this past year (400,000) then any previous president! Some please sell that anti-Obama BS elsewhere. It's true I'm angry with both parties over this mess, but you have your facts wrong. While we were looking for WMD's in Iraq, our country was being flooded with illegals. Just have companies fined for hiring them, and jail the CEO's!

    November 14, 2011 at 2:49 am |
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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.