Evangelical Christians prepare for ‘largest ever grassroots push on immigration’
January 12th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

Evangelical Christians prepare for ‘largest ever grassroots push on immigration’

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

Washington (CNN) – When the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez talks about immigration, it is as someone who has witnessed the way a religious community is affected when a family is torn apart by deportation.

“It is personal for me,” Rodriguez said, describing deported friends and congregants as "lovely people. These are wonderful, God-fearing, family-loving people.”

Rodriguez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has a naturally boisterous voice that booms with authority. When he speaks about immigration, passion oozes out of every syllable. But his voice softens as he speaks of those close to him who have been deported: an associate pastor's wife, a friend from Sacramento, California, a well-known congregant - the list seems committed to memory.

Even as he relives the heartache, the pastor seems hopeful, if not optimistic.

Rodriguez, along with a number of other high-profile evangelical leaders, many of whom who have worked on immigration reform for decades, are betting that 2013 represents the best opportunity they've ever had to get meaningful reforms passed. Proof of their confidence: A coalition of evangelical groups is launching what many are calling the “largest ever grass-roots push on immigration.”

“We have a moral imperative to act,” Rodriguez exclaims. “This is the year. This is the evangelical hour to lead in a justice issue.”

In the mind of many evangelical leaders, the reverend is right.

Betting on 2013

The coalition is called the Evangelical Immigration Table and it is brought together a diverse mix of evangelical groups, including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners and Focus on the Family.

Though the groups began holding broader discussion two years ago, Monday will serve as the campaign's first concerted push on immigration, with the goal of getting meaningful immigration reform through Congress in 2013.

“I think we have a window of opportunity in these first months of 2013,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told CNN. “I think there is a real, new conversation on immigration reform.”

That window, Land acknowledges, is small and could close at any point. Congress has a number of issues to deal with in the coming year; Republican members of Congress hope to focus on government spending and the debt, while the White House is likely to push for gun control early in the president’s second term.

Land, however, says that isn’t an excuse.

“I am hopeful that Congress can walk and chew gum and the same time,” Land said. “I am hopeful they can deal with more than one issue at the same time.”

The group has already released an open letter to Congress and the White House. In it, they the group presses Congress to respect “the God-given dignity of every person” and establish a “path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.”

“As evangelical leaders, we live every day with the reality that our immigration system doesn’t reflect our commitment to the values of human dignity, family unity and respect for the rule of law that define us as Americans,” the letter states. “Initiatives by both parties to advance commonsense fixes to our immigration policies have stalled in years past.”

Since the group's launch last June, organizers have been fundraising and placing people in three states,  Colorado, Florida and Texas, to lay the groundwork with local evangelical leaders and politicians. By making these early investments, coalition leaders hope there will be a highly reactive group of evangelicals ready to push for immigration reform.

In addition to local networking, these evangelical leaders have begun lobbying leaders in both the U.S. House and Senate and plan to do more “grass-roots lobbying,” including bringing people to Capitol Hill in the future.

According to Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners and a leader in the coalition, the group has met with “top-level White House officials” as well as Democratic and Republican leaders "from Chuck Schumer to Lindsey Graham."

“Immigration reform, fixing this broken system, has a chance of being the first thing, maybe the one thing, that I think could really be accomplished in a bipartisan way,” Wallis said. “Courageous, bold, bipartisan decisions that do the right thing are not real common (in Washington), but I think this is really possible now.”

Making the focus biblical

For Richard Land and other coalition leaders, this is not just a moral issue, it is also biblical.

“For those of us who are people of faith, these are issues that our faith informs,” Land said. “For us, this is an issue that is rending the social fabric of the nation and causing a great deal of human suffering. As people of faith, we need to address it.”

The campaign will release a video on Monday that features more than a dozen evangelical leaders reading the text of Matthew 25:31-46.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him…” reads Max Lucado, a well-known evangelical pastor and author.

“He will sit on his glorious throne, all the nations gathered before him…” continues John Perkins, an evangelical author and speaker.

The video continues this way for more than two minutes, evangelical leader after evangelical leader reading a biblical text that stresses the importance of helping “a stranger.”

“'For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me,'” Jesus says, describing the Final Judgment. “'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”

In addition to the video's release, the coalition organizers have asked local leaders to encourage their congregations to take the “I Was a Stranger Challenge.” Those who take the challenge will receive daily verses of scripture that might apply to the immigration issue – with the hope that they will use them in prayer – and a “Toolkit” to help spread the word on the need for immigration reform.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” reads the first text, citing Genesis 1:27.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands,” reads the last text, citing Revelation 7:9.

Pastors are also being urged to use their sermons to speak about the need to help "strangers" and relate immigration reform to Christian values.

In total, the organizers believe the campaign will reach more than 100,000 churches.

“Evangelicals have been converted by the Bible and by Jesus on the issue of welcoming strangers,” Wallis said. “It is very clear if you go around the country, this is a conversion here. It is a biblical conversion. What Jesus says is the way you treat the stranger is the way you treat me.”

‘The right thing for the wrong reasons’

Coalition leaders also see the 2012 election results, particularly the fact that Republican nominee Mitt Romney struggled mightily among Hispanic voters, as a powerful tool they can use against reluctant politicians. Land, who has long counseled Republican presidents on religious issues, says he plans to use the 2012 election to his favor when talking to legislators.

“We plan to point out that if the GOP ... wants to be a viable national party in the future, then it is going to have to get more Hispanic votes then it did in the last election,” Land said. When asked if he is comfortable with getting immigration reform passed by using political and election bargaining, Land laughed.

“Maybe [the Republican Party] should do the right thing for the wrong reasons,” he said.

But Republicans are not the only group faced with changing demographics. Evangelical Christians, too, are seeing the makeup of their churches change drastically.

Nearly one-fifth (19%) of Hispanics in the United States identify as Protestant, a Pew Research study found in 2012. On top of that, Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to say they are “born again” or evangelical as opposed to mainline Protestant.

Though Hispanics are still more likely to identify as Catholic – 62% do so, according to Pew – evangelical leaders say they see signs that the number of Hispanics in their churches will only grow in the future.

“The growth in most of our churches is because of immigration. That is the future of our churches,” Wallis said matter-of-factly.

That change is evidenced in the ethnic makeup of the coalition’s leadership. Luis Cortés, president of the evangelical group Esperanza, Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, all signed on to the group early. Additionally, many of the local pastors are from primarily Hispanic churches.

Wallis concludes: “This is our growth, these are out brothers and sisters. We are a diverse body of Christ, we are a very diverse community. This is our family and this is our future.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Immigration • Latino issues • Protestant • Race

soundoff (1,205 Responses)
  1. buff

    Hilarious, the very people who have accused the President of being an Islamist, who voted against him because he is a Democrat are now getting to have this a conversation because of him.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • nosurprise

      The article is not if they approve or disapprove of the president...

      It is based on the Teachings of The Lord Jesus Who is God. He told us how to treat the stranger, as every person is made in the image and likeness of God.

      Romney would have won if he honored God and not man's perception of what would get him votes.

      The president has been on the right side of the issue of helping the poor and needy but he has violate the Word of God on issues of destroying children and his attempt to redefine God's View of Marriage.

      For these things God will respond to the president and those who support him. A lifetime in man's eyes may seem long. In the dimensions of God Who is outside time and space; it loses meaning...

      God is God; no man can dictate His Will; people suffer for lack of knowledge, the Bible says. As people begin to reach out to God, and turn from their society pleasing, self obsessed ways, the Lord's Hand will be seen Quickly and Powerfully to cleanse the earth of all darkness...

      January 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Damocles


      No one can dictate a deity's will yet here you are, dictating a deity's will.

      No surprise.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  2. rdeleys

    I am so tired of hearing people debating these really incredibly stupid religious issues. Not only are these debates irrational and futile, they distract people from addressing the real issues facing this country. Read the Humanist Manifesto and then with those thoughts in mind, see if you can find rational solutions to our problems.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  3. sarbear

    Also - this passionate Mexican Pastor is soooo concerned about Jesus' words saying we must feed and clothe strangers – why can't we AMERICAS choose to send our money to the slums of Calcutta? Those people need help, much more than Mexicans. Nooo...he is talking about MEXICANS. He doesn't give a crap about the starving and poor in Africa, India.....I'm so sick of this.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • dreamer96

      Take a good look at Mexico City...it is surrounded by slums...terrible living conditions...

      January 13, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Madison

      Um, this passionate pastor IS an AMERICAN. U.S. citizens with Spanish surnames have been here a really, really long time.

      January 14, 2013 at 1:28 am |
  4. RichardSRussell

    Evangelicals NEVER push a brand-new message. All they ever do is gussy up their tired old message with shiny new wrapping paper, hoping to be able to attract a new generation of gullible, weak-minded suckers.

    Even when they're pushing the right ideas, it's for the wrong reasons.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • dreamer96


      The Religious groups are always reinventing religion ..The new breed of TV Preachers, or the Rapture belief, is not in the Bible....the Unitarian Church was created like many other branches long after Jesus died......

      January 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  5. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:-->>>

    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, there would be no need for Mexican, Haitian, Irish, Italian and/or Asian "slaves" and therefore there would be no illegal immigration.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  6. sarbear

    We can certainly love and help these immigrants – AFTER THEY HAVE GOTTEN IN LINE AND PROPERLY APPLIED LEGALLY TO BECOME AMERICAN FROM THEIR HOME COUNTRY! I'm so sick of this S**T! The amount of WELFARE given to Illegal Immigrants is sickening – free housing, medical, free daycare, food stamps, more food and baby supplies, endless, endless welfare. I am sick of it. At least let my hard working tax dollars go to the AMERICAN who immigrated LEGALLY – I will help THAT PERSON! I do think there should be cooperation between the the American And Mexican governments to have more immigration paths from the Mexican side – but they have to get in line and get a Tuberculous test, and they need to not be criminals or gang-bangers or rapists.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • worktolive

      Absolutely agree. No way should the illegals in this country be given citizenship when we have people waiting and obeying the law to get into this country legally. DO IT RIGHT OR GO HOME. If you are a Christian you know that Jesus says to obey the laws of the land.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Leah R

      Every race has lazies. Stereotyping is so harmful. How many people have relatives who immigrated within the last 100 years?We need an Ellis Island type of system so immigrants can become legal citizens in an orderly, efficient manner. We depend on these immigrants for our workforce and the cultural diversity some parts of the US needs. Get over it, they are not going to quit coming here. It's a pointless argument.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • want2believe

      Illegal immigrants can not get welfare as they are not US citizens. If the household is receiving assistance it is through the child if a US citizen. The same as any other American child may receive. Yes illegals may get healthcare if necessary, public schooling for illegal children, etc but they are also paying into social security they'll never receive, property taxes to support local schools, etc. While I agree with where you are coming from your claims are exaggerated and only factual arguments will lead to reformed immigration law.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  7. Lou

    The Order of Creation

    Genesis 1:11-12 and 1:26-27 Trees came before Adam.

    Genesis 2:4-9 Trees came after Adam.

    Genesis 1:20-21 and 26-27 Birds were created before Adam.

    Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 Birds were created after Adam.

    Genesis 1:24-27 Animals were created before Adam.

    Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 Animals were created after Adam.

    Genesis 1:26-27 Adam and Eve were created at the same time.

    Genesis 2:7 and 2:21-22 Adam was created first, woman sometime later.

    Other Issues in the Garden

    Genesis 1:31 God was pleased with his creation.
    Genesis 6:5-6 God was not pleased with his creation.
    Which raises the question, how can an omnipotent, omniscient God create something he’s not pleased with?

    Genesis 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
    An omnipotent being required…rest?

    Genesis 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
    God placed temptation in the direct path of his two naïve children and allowed them to be tempted by the serpent (Genesis 3: 1-7), resulting in a single mistake that would contaminate hundreds of billions with a sin nature worthy of eternal torture?

    Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, ’You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?"
    A talking snake. Enough said.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Origin of Life

      True order of things

      BRAND NEW FOR review All starts with the brain.

      Don't need religion to tell us where Origin of Life began OR how LIFE WORKS

      Origin of Life: Just add WATER !!!
      Hypothesis Traces First Protocells Back to Emergence of Cell Membrane Bioenergetics

      Dec. 20, 2012 — A coherent pathway – which starts from no more than rocks, water and carbon dioxide and leads to the emergence of the strange bio-energetic properties of living cells – has been traced for the first time in a major hypothesis paper in Cell this week.

      It is called Separation of Church and State

      Can't teach ID/creationism in public schools in US as fact. PERIOD

      NOVA | Intelligent Design on Trial – PBS
      Nov 13, 2007 – Featuring trial reenactments based on court transcripts and interviews with key participants, including expert scientists and Dover parents, ...

      New science standards created by MAJORITY of 26 states for 2013 (Stem).

      Origin of life

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

      Origin of Life no religions needed.

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

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

      January 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Ratifeid1791

      Cut and pasting Bible passages they way you have is proof that you're a nut case!

      January 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  8. Bill in western nc

    all of my illegal employees > all of the fat white and black welfare collecting sacks of drug puss and food stamp jerry springer lovin donks

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

    1) There has been a path to citizenship for decades. It's called APPLYING for citizenship instead of breaking the law by entering the country illegally.

    2) REWARDING illegal behavior promotes MORE illegal behavior.

    3) There are seven BILLION people on earth. Everyone can't live here. This is why immigration laws exist.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  10. Concerned American

    Send every illegal immigrant home to where they belong... Then they can have the opportunity to enter the country legally... If they're unable to gain entry legally then that's their problem.
    End of story.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Rational Libertarian


      January 13, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      I wonder how concerned you will be when there is no food on the table, because the migrant workers who picked that fruit/vegetable/etc. was deported.

      Stupid: it can't be fixed. It has to be exterminated.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  11. David

    If the 10 Commandments are essentially God's law, and pastors are always trying to keep us from breaking those laws, I don't quite understand their rationale for advocating for those who have broken immigration laws. Why is it that the law abiding citizens of the US have to change our ways because someone illegally entered the country and now his family is being split up? He put his family in that predicament. If I chose to uproot my family with no job and head to NY with no real plan, I'd be doing the same thing to my family.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • DB

      This is about changing those laws to something more sensible, not protecting those who violate them.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  12. Ratifeid1791

    The socialist democrat Obama, along with his complicit propaganda department(s) CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, etc, have been felony stupid by ruining this country with dangerous radical euro trash policies that continue to destroy American culture, wealth, and common sense

    Blue Collar 80%, Whites 78.1%, Women 53%, Hispanics 16.7%, Blacks 13.1%
    12,206,000 AMERICANS unemployed, 40%, 4,800,000 are Long Term Unemployed
    9.0% average highest unemployment rate in modern US History 4 years in a row

    Socialist Democrats are the low information obama voters that are killing this country

    January 13, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Bill in western nc

      you forgot fox as they keep the left right issue stewing

      January 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      Another example of why stupid cannot be fixed. And no, I'm not talking about the people you hate.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Belvarie Varnado

      Right. I agree.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  13. NERO!!!!

    I wish the indians had better immigration control !!!!!!!!

    January 13, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • David

      Reports from Mexico's Southern border don't indicate that they are very willing to even accept other Latins to croos their borders illegally.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  14. cuzIsaidso

    I think the guy in the picture could benefit from anti-seizure medication.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  15. halfbakedlunatic

    Come on people, it's 2013. If you still think there's some 'god' in the sky that watches everything you do, you need to go back to living in the dark ages. Sheesh, what a load of crap.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • cuzIsaidso

      They never left the dark ages in the first place.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • tb63

      He sees you when you're sleeping
      He knows when you're awake
      He knows if you've been bad or good
      so be good for goodness sake.

      Sound familiar?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • David

      Your name says it all.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • ozikboy

      THANK YOU ... half baked

      January 13, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • ozikboy

      THANK YOU ... half baked– what happened to separation of church and state???? really what happened to it???

      January 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      David mindlessly blathered the following idiocy: "Your name says it all."

      Yes, David, to a simpleton, everything in life is simple. To adults, and sentient beings, life is much more subtle and complex.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  16. oldleftcoastdude

    What part of "illlegal", does this guy not understand?

    January 13, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  17. AlienShark

    You would be amazed to know how many of the "debaters" in this forum are actually paid shills working in boiler room type operations that copy whatever "facts" their bosses give them in order to persuade public opinion. pretty grimy.

    http://consciouslifenews .com/paid-internet-shill-shadowy-groups-manipulate-internet-opinion-debate/1147073/

    January 13, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • End Religion

      AlienShart: didn't do enough shilling of your own yet, eh?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  18. MsB

    “It is personal for me,” Rodriguez said, describing deported friends and congregants as "lovely people. These are wonderful, God-fearing, family-loving people.”

    Wrong. These are wonderful, God-fearing, family-loving CRIMINALS.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Bill in western nc

      your an idiot.....DIE RELIGION DIE so we can love our neighbors as ourselves

      January 13, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I don't think being an illegal immigrant is a criminal offence, I imagine it's more a civil matter.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • DB

      Illegal immigration is not a crime, you ignoramus.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  19. TheSadFacts

    People are becoming even too dumbed down to folow religion. lol. Now thats ironic.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  20. Bill in western nc

    I completely agree that immigration needs to be addressed and in my opinion eliminated....I own a construction company and without my illegals my company would go under.....I cannot survive off of the lazy white and black men mentality of collecting welfare sitting home and getting high .....sorry

    January 13, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Concerned American

      Maybe you should do some of the manual labor yourself... you also need to add lazy hispanic to your list of collecting welfare sitting home and getting high. That's an equal opportunity across the board...

      January 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Bill in western nc

      i do work idiot 70 plus hours a week and for every 1 illegal getting high i have 25 lazy whites and blacks getting stoned...shut up white trash

      January 13, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • Kevin

      Right on Bill. so True.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Kevin

      I'm so done with the lazy american lower and middle class.

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