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. saganhill

    Christianity–taking advantage of the poor, elderly, young, uneducated for 2000+ years.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  2. Lou

    a dose of reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Ratified1791

      How does a post like this "get through"?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • ??

      Nice Lou-Keep up the good work..ps;Where's the answer sheet ?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • OTOH


      @Lou's post may be lengthy, but there is not a thing wrong with it.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • JLS1950

      I don't know where you get the idea that clergymen don't pay taxes on personal income – or that they do not pay sales tax, personal property tax, real property tax on personally-owned homes and land, other taxes and fees – but you are wrong.
      For the rest of your rant, personal faith, obedience, discipline and prayer are elements of all forms of faith and not merely of Christianity. That you elect to criticize ONLY Christianity and in particular Catholicism suggest to me that you are a disillusioned Catholic engaged in a vendetta against particularly that church. That you chose THIS story to post your anti-faith rant suggests to me that you are also racist and xenophobic. You have chosen to be intolerant of people who are "not like you" and you frankly don't even really know who you are yourself: only that you are "not like them" – "them" being whoever you fear or who has disappointed or disillusioned you in some way. Sad way to life, really.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Ratified1791

      Otoh? PURE BS!

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

      @Lou. Your questionnaire gave me a chuckle. You should post it where people can actually answer it.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • OTOH


      You are free to debate any of the points in Lou's post. A blanket "BS" is BS.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  3. NickD

    Coming into the nation illegally is breaking the law. Crying because you are related to a lawbreaker who was deported is silly.

    Try to sneal into Canada and work, or any other nation and see what happens.

    America, like every other nation on the planet has a right to protect its borders and decide who to let in.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  4. Ratified1791

    Unemployed? American or Illegal Alien? ........Socialist Obama Democrats CHOOSE THE ILLEGAL!

    These bad democrats are not your fathers democrats. They are deeply flawed Eurowannabes who hate "our" laws and hate successful Americans who are now oppressed by the tax code to support "other countries populations"!

    January 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • NickD

      11 million illegals came into America while Bush was president. The GOp cheered at his leadership. Your post here is indeed very silly and inaccurate.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Ratified1791

      No they didn't Niki numbnuts......just throwing number against the wall is called talking out your butt!

      January 13, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      Finally figured out how to actually spell ratified, eh, dimwit?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Ratified1791

      How fast do those soros checks clear dimwit JJ?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  5. AlienShark

    I think people have the right to know that they are not debating against other people, in many cases they are debating against shills who are working for lobbys and subsequently keeping records of who agrees with them and who does not.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  6. James Berry

    I wonder how many of the above people commenting consider themselves CHRISTIAN? Yet by their words don't understand a word of what Jesus said even though biblical quotes are in the article. I am an atheist but understand what the words of Jesus mean. The "Christians" I hear on the TV news know the least about their own religion.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • blessedgeek

      I wonder how many people who consider themselves programmers are actually :"programmers". Is an Excel VBScript writer or a web page designer a "programmer".

      I wonder how many people who consider themselves programming a computer language is actually programming a computer language, I mean, can we really call XML a language?

      Who is allowed to be the authority in all these religious definition? Just because a programming language bible opines that a particular concept is a "language"?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  7. FlexSF

    Nice image of a Christian lunatic. Keep him away from me!

    January 13, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  8. achepotle

    who are they hating on this time?

    January 13, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • salty19

      you obviously didn't read the article...

      January 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  9. Miked

    Don't let imaginary lines on a map and paper money blind you. These immigrants are praying for your well being as well as their's. Learn from them those who are not monitarily rich and soon you will be rich in spirit, as well. This country needs a lot of spiritual wealth. Praise Jehovah! Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!

    January 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  10. moiraesfate

    Wow, they're all just as nuts as I always thought they were. They just keep proving it.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  11. sokesky

    An actual Christian message from a Christian evangelical group?! I am shocked! I really expected to read this article and hear that they were out to deport aliens.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  12. Good News Volunteer


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

      I believe every word contained within the bible. I attempt to live by that book. I consider myself to be a Christian. I also attempt to live by the laws of this my adopted land. I came here as a LEGAL immigrant 35 years ago. I completed all the paperwork, paid the fees, agreed to (and subsequently fulfilled) preconditions, BEFORE I set foot on U.S. soil. I pay my taxes, I contribute to the system. I am proud to be a US citizen.

      On the other hand, ILLEGAL is just that! Torn families due to ILLEGAL immigration are a product of their own misguided conduct. Return all ILLEGAL immigrants to their homeland, including their children born here due to their ILLEGAL conduct and allow them to start the immigration process LEGALLY.

      This country is having financial problems for many reasons. One of the larger contributors to the problem is the cost of ILLEGAL immigration, and the downstream effects of paying for people who do not contribute, and then send their untaxed monies home to families residing overseas. If the laws were obeyed, massive income would be realized and massive costs would be eliminated.

      This has very little do with religion, and everything to do with LEGAL vs ILLEGAL acts to attempt access to our great land.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  13. Ratifeid1791

    The only reason this is front page on radical leftist CNN is because it is the democrats platform to BUY VOTES at the expense of American Law and American Citizens.

    Stop ALL illegal immigration and force them to go home. Their countries do exactly the same thing

    January 13, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      You are an idiot.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Ratified1791

      Stupid is all you low information anti american obama supporter

      January 13, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • sqeptiq

      As long as teapublicans insist it is a "democratic issue," that's exactly what it will remain as will the teapublican party remain an ever decreasing minority party. Those who can't even see the future will never own it.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Ratified1791

      Whites 78.1%, Hispanics are 16.3%, Blacks 13% proves that this is nothing but a get out the vote campaign by our socialist democrat media and their failed stupid leader obumbles

      January 13, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • ??

      Perhaps you might feel better commenting on the fair and balanced website.Your rational views would be most welcome over there.WHAT?They don't allow comments?So much for the freedom of speech thingy.Get a grip pal.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • achepotle

      that is just good common sense...massive camps, huge military operations...buying more transport planes obviously....and I'm sure the countries of origin won't mind, and if they do, who cares! Please allow me to join you in your 1939 fantasy world.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  14. Bill Cunnane

    There would not be a problem about splitting up families by deportation is these so called immigrants would come here LEGALLY. Until then they are nothing but criminals and should be treated as such. We need to end the birthright rules and make the children just as illegal as their parents are. Deport them as a family and problem solved. Its time the churches keep their collective noses out of the political arena (since most are just in it for the donations) and they need to start encouraging LEGAL immigration and start to discourage the illegal entry into this country. Also churches need to stop sheltering and aiding illegals as well.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  15. Dick Izinya

    Most christians are racist right-wingers, so I doubt this movement will get anywhere.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Don Camp

      It is difficult to imagine a statement more misinformed and ignorant. In my church, a smallish evangelical church in the northwest, 1/4 to1/3 of the congregation is Asian. There are in addition several African Americans. We have cordial relationships with Hispanic congregations in our area.

      I teach in a Christian school. 20% of our student body is Asian and African.

      There are, of course, many evangelical churches that are mostly white. But there are several reasons for that other than racism. They may be in primarily white neighborhoods or because of the language immigrants tend to form congregations that speak the same language. There is, for example, a Korean language church next to mine. But we have fellowship with them and several times a year meet together for a service and a meal. So I don't know about your experience, but I suspect that your "experience" has been minimal. And that may be the problem – speaking on a issue you have no knowledge of.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  16. AlienShark

    You would not believe how many of the "debaters" in this forum are in reality paid shills working in boiler room type operations that copy whatever "facts" their bosses give them in order to persuade public opinion. pretty grimy. This article is one of many, a quick internet search will shed some light in this thriving business.

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

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

      Even if this were to be true (doubtful), there are some from every side of each topic of debate, plus plenty of real folks to respond to them.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  17. msadr

    What in the world does the return of Christ and the last judgement have to do with immigration in the USA? Those are not even straws they're grasping at! Immigration is an issue that involves the management of resources (natural, physical and human resources) and the administration of government programs. There is not one thing about it that is moral or religious in nature. A family wouldn't be torn apart if it obeyed the law in the first place. They create their own moral crises, then try to blame it on immigration policy. That's ridiculous.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Dick Izinya

      What a wonderful example of christian piety you are! Keep up the good work!

      January 13, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Kevin

      Wow. I finally read an article about compassionate Christians and then there it is, in the very first letter, the same old hate-filled ranting I've come to expect. Nothing moral about immigration? Sure, if that helps you sleep at night.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  18. Paul

    LEAVE UNTO CAESAR THAT WHICH IS CAESAR'S. Can't you "Christians" read your own book? Religion has no place in politics and law.
    Illegal immigrants are personally responsible for their families torn apart because the first action they took in this country was a criminal act. They are the ones who set in motion the events that lead to their families being separated. Christ asks us to respect the law, not to just ignore it when it does not suit us.
    Why am I, born a citizen of this country, bound by the laws of it, but someone who enters it of their own will is not?
    Are we just to live in anarchy?

    January 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Dick Izinya

      "Christ asks us to respect the law, not to just ignore it when it does not suit us."? Where on earth did you get that? Christ was executed by the state as a criminal. Stop making things up.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • rdeleys

      As long as you're talking about obeying laws, why not direct your moral indignation toward Wall Street too?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Don Camp

      @ Dick. Jesus was executed as a criminal, but5 not because he broke the law. In fact, Pilate found him innocent but had him executed because of the political pressure of the Jewish religious leaders.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  19. N&W 1000

    This is a new "type" of evangelical; they are on our side, the Democrat side.

    Everybody knows the key to destroying the republican party is to get these illegals in here as fast as we can. They support us, not the republicans.

    Praise the Lord pastor Rodriguez!

    January 13, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • OldJoe

      Jimy Joe,
      You *do* realize that most immigrants, legal or not, are CATHOLIC?

      January 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  20. Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

    I mean just look at the buffoon in the picture.

    Delusional, in the extreme.

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

      I'm always just a bit embarrassed to see these people having their godgasms in public.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:33 am |
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