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. everettreb

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

    But the Bible teaches that we are to obey the laws of the land.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  2. Bob

    I don't really think God gives a rats rear about a mexican sneaking into the U.S. God would be a lot happier if the person worked to improve his own country. Make E-Verify mandatory in the U.S. and stop all this BS talk. We have laws and they are simply illegal aliens nothing more nothing less.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  3. Matthew Kilburn

    The only reason that our immigration system doesn't maintain family unity is because illegals choose not to have their children sent back home with them. Lets be clear: any US-born child of an illegal immigrant is also a citizen of the home nation of that illegal.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  4. Marquice Moore

    If they were God fearing, they wouldn't come to this country; they would abide by the laws of their land and come here the correct way. They are thieves, disguising their selves as citizens, evangelical Christians, and saints, it is not right and shouldn't be tolerated.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jcook

      How do you tout this country as the greatest country in the world, then get upset that ppl want to come here? Yes, what they do when coming over us illegal, but blanketing then with a label as criminals and deceitful is hillbilly logic. You have never broken the law? By your logic if you speed or illegally park you aren't god fearing. Absolutely ignorant.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  5. ChristianWatch

    Evangelical Christianity, Jehadi Islam and Communism all vie for the same thing – to subjugate your soul and covet all your natural resources and use you as a leverage for their comfort. All the three shall eventually perish.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Marquice Moore

      Same with Christianity, that is no more than plagiarized Kemhet Teachings from Ancient Egypt. All religions will perish, it is their destiny to be understood as a dogma.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  6. Sandra Chapin

    I am Catholic,and a Democrat,but am against immigrants coming into our country illegally. We have laws in place that have been ignored,bent,and broken in many ways. Our country is not in economic shape to take on more and more people right now. Just as any family who was/is going through hard times would have to turn away a needy relative. And I agree with some others on here that this has become more about filling collection plates than what is legal and right. Wondering how these evangelicals would feel about an open door policy for illegals coming here from Islamists nations?? Different storyI suspect.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Origin of life

      @Sandra Chapin

      The story of RCC is not good

      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 12:30 pm |
  7. Hello

    There are about 7 billion people on this planet.. and they all want a better life... so just how many of those 7 billion can we manage to support in the US? Lets give it a try.. lets open our borders and fly, ship, truck the who human population into the US. All getting welfare from the US government.. and breeding to the max.. want to make the whole world happy at our expense... sure we can do it. 7 billion to be moved into a country of now about 400 million.. sure it will work and everyone will be happy. living off the few tax payers.. lets see.. that might be for every tax payer they will have a few million to support.
    sure that makes sense... I guess we can just pray to god to make it all work right?
    I am all for it.. lets import as many people we can... fill up those cargo ships with masses of humans... fly them in from all over the planet ... cities like NYC, SF, Chicago, etc will have populations in the billions... and there will be so much human chitz all over the place there will not be anyplace to stand that is not knees deep in chitz.. but they will all be happy Christians... waiting for god to feed them more do they can turn our country in to a huge pile of human chitz.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • That's just crazy talk

      India is home to about 1/3 of the planet people and is smaller in size than the US, so we could be home to a 1/3rd easily, but I would definitely move somewhere else if got to that point.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Pantheist

      You're so right . . . seems to me America has been overtaken by the losers on the planet and they feel they have the "right" to destroy our country by leeching off the American taxpayers and bringing their dirty cultures to America! It's gotten ridiculous, imho!

      January 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  8. Doc

    So, apparently, the message here is... if it hurts people's feelings to enforce the law, don't. Utterly ridiculous. If you came here illegally and built friendships, a family, etc., great for you. But you came here illegally and if you get caught, you get to face the music. Maybe you should have thought of that before you started popping out babies that my tax dollars pay for.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Pantheist

      That is the real reason they come here . . . to have babies who are automatically citizens and their parents thereby become eligible for benefits from a system they have contributed NOTHING to! It's so wrong!

      January 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  9. Bob

    The good reverend failed to mention his persecuted friends were foreign nationals illegally residing in the US. They were breaking the law and shouldn’t have been in this country.
    It’s not a god given right for foreign nationals to live in this country. Granting someone residency and citizenship is a privilege, we shouldn’t be coerced into giving illegal immigrants residency/citizenship simply because many people broke the law for years. It’s an insult to immigrants who entered this country legally.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • dreamer96

      Funny the Native American Indians were very Religious and the invading Christians all but wiped them out....

      January 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Mike R

      Who are you to say what rights are God given? We are free, even to say selfish and stupid things. Freedom means nothing without a sense of humility and gratefulness. And remember, they are not crossing the border, it crossed them first. So learn to submit and be respectful to the others that give.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  10. Mike R

    Religion inspires ways to creatively bring the peace and harmony in this world, when one isn't putting material possessions above others. It's time to put away childish thinking, you don't have to believe in Santa clause to learn the gift of giving. Imaginary lines on maps and paper money are just fake possessions within itself; don't let it turn you into something unrealistic in value. May Jehovah illuminate your path away from darkness. Hallelujah!

    January 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      religion is cultural and divisive

      January 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • barlowc

      Keep going, its very amusing.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • That's just crazy talk

      I have a message for evangelicals for 2013 too, shut up already! You are a bunch of clowns.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • David

      We just do not have the resources for this, they will destroy our country over night. People like you are pushing for a civil war.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  11. dreamer96


    Just had a visit from Jesus...He wanted me to pass on the word...He is Banning all guns from Heaven from now on...To many duck hunters are hitting the Angels...He has had it with guns in Heaven....No more....

    January 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  12. BCJonah

    AH yes... Rodriguez the proud and loud Republican whose job now is to bring the Hispanics into the fold of the GOP through prayer.... I wonder if he will mention Fox News Chanel to them as the earthly connection to the almighty.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  13. zandhcats

    Most Christians are great people inside their church, but as long as they step out from church, they aren't.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  14. GAW

    Evangelicals and their causes.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  15. dyno8

    I think God will eventually let Earth go because we are not obeying his laws ... then he will go back to his drawing board.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Really??

      You mean the laws men made up and then claimed were gods

      January 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Damocles

      Nothing is quite as amusing as the thought of a supposedly eternal being losing its patience.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      His laws? Are you speaking of that Iron Age comic book?

      January 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Where do you get refills for a planet-sized dry erase board? Oh wait, he's God! so he can just snap his fingers and create one. Because God can make anything he wants to... except for humans that will worship him I guess.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • dyno8

      We have too many examples of un-faithful religious believer's!

      January 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Not Intolerant

      How about unfaithful nonbelievers?

      Damocles, that's great! "Time is running short dang it, now I'm getting mad! Oh, wait. I have forever."

      January 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • dyno8

      @Not Intolerant
      Yes ... them also.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  16. Finbar9

    For God's sake please keep your religion out of politics.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  17. southernsugar

    It's going to take more than a prayer and illegal dreams, to become a citizen of this country. We have LAWS. You broke those laws and must pay the consequences. If you want to invoke God, do as he said and OBEY HIS LAWS AND THOSE OF YOUR COUNTRY. With any luck, you'll be on your own personal trek back to mexico. This story is sooo old. Get out.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  18. Ratified1791

    Nothing this failing socialist rag of a news organization can be trusted as straight and true. 100% of what they print is designed to "push socialist democrat ideology" to destroy the fabric of this country bound by laws.

    The Socialist Democrat Party is the most corrupt anti American organization ever in the history of this country

    January 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Right on

      Exactly. Better switch to Fox 'news'!

      January 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Mike

      @Ratified So why do you read this "socialist rag/"

      January 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Fairness

      Then why are you reading this article.?

      January 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Finbar9

      Remember past decades Ratified, when Herbert Hoover conditioned America to believe Communists were hiding under every bush........seeking to subvert America?

      January 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ratified1791

      @Mike ....this is simply verbal target practice with cheap .22 ammo!

      January 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • ZL

      Fox is garbage...and there's clips all over youtube of their execs admitting they fabricated socialism, communism, muslim, illegal, all that garbage to keep their stupid viewers watching. Even O'Reilley is on tape laughing about it saying none of it's true..you people seriously need to change the channel...it's why most Americans think you're mentally ill and are pushing for stricter gun laws.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Ratified1791

      ZL, News Corp is less than 5% of the news media markets .....next!

      CNN has been in a free fall decline because they are engaged in a Biased News Model that shills a political position for the socialist democrat party. Every single area of their programing is in a ratings decline year after year....

      January 13, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  19. Jcook

    I understand that it's sad that families get torn apart, and I am all for immigration reform, however those ppl who get deported either knew the risks or are children of immigrants that put their children in that position despite the risks. Making a living in Mexico isn't as difficult as the media makes it seem. I have 9 offices in Mexico and employ over 350 ppl. Business is there, and industry verticals are incredibly diverse. Escaping danger is a valiant reson to jump the border, but in most major cities the danger isn't much less. There needs to be a fast track legalization process, and Mexicans need to use it instead of choosing the easy way and sneak in. There are more angles to this discussion than families being torn apart, and evangelicals losing good paying customers.

    January 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • southernsugar

      WRONG! They need to the h*e*l*l out of American. There is nothing good about them. Their culture is Indian. We have Indians. They are ignorant and dirty. We have that. Get out.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Jcook

      Southernsugar, your comment just proves your ignorance. Do you even know a Mexican? Of course you don't. Mexicans are very loyal and moral ppl. You can single out the bad ones, but every nationality has them. You love in such a sheltered world. Dirty? Why? Because they work hard? Because they come from desert regions. You know what's dirty? Texans. Vile, nasty, arrogant pigs. I would rather have 10 Mexican employees or friends over 1 Texan any day. I just spent 5 days inPhoenix with my Mexican operations and sales, and I've yet to find one that I don't trust. My operations in Dallas on the other hand is flat out shady. I have to spend 10 times the time and effort babysitting them than any of my Mexican offices. You are just a bitter hick.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      To illustrate southernsugar's level of intelligence, he/she seems to think our country is called "American".
      Let's not even begin to point out that Mexico is also in "American", as "American" is a massive continent of 23 countries. That would just make his head explode, and we can presume his geology skills are just as adept as his mastery of the English language.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  20. GayAtheist

    This tax-free church is advocating we waste tax money on illegals and their overbreeding and crime.
    It's time to tax the church...double.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Jcook

      Blanketing Mexicans as criminals is just plain dumb. You give atheists a bad name.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • David

      Amen. This situation is the equivalent of opening up the gates of hell upon our nation.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • David

      @Jcook. You don't understand, they are pushing for an open immigration policy. Our country cannot take this on, it will destroy us completely. We will become a third world hell hole over night, and that is no joke.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      I think any sane atheist would agree that churches that operate business should be taxed. My local megachurch owes the feds $7 million in fines for illegaly influencing local elections. I'm sure the pastor can sell a couple of his summer homes.

      January 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Jcook

      I'm not advocating open immigration, but I would like to see the process take less than the current 18 months. Get them into the system so they pay taxes, and force employers to pay them normal wages so the standard rate for certain industries aren't destroyed. It's just common sense. You will never stop them from coming. Why not create a pathway that allows for federal and local benefit?

      January 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Some say the obvious answer is dissolving income tax in favor of higher sales taxes. It's easy to dodge the IRS as they have little organizational skill. But everybody shops, and everyone pays sales taxes. In fact, this is one way that the wealthy can be snookered into paying a higher rate, since they have more luxury purchases. Ilegal immigrants would be paying taxes every time they make any purchase, with no way to cheat the system.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • I'm Garbage

      Hey smarty pants, please cite for all of us where Mexican criminals appear in the gentleman's opinion.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
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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.