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
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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. Lee Oates

    At least they are doing something worth while for a change.

    January 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Ed

      How is continuing and spreading their god fraud / ponzi scheme a good thing?

      January 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  2. Why Not?

    Yeah, why not emptying our prisons, by sending our own criminals, particularly dr.ug lords, ga.ng members and all the other sc.um of the earth there , south of the border, and let all good Law abiding, God fearing immigrants, who want to live decent lives stay here? It would take a small effort to weed them out, checking their backgrounds, and send the th.ugs back, together with them.
    Good people need hope and secure future, but the th.ugs need to be sent to the sewers, where they are right at home. They'll learn the language fast...
    This country definitely does not know how co.nduct its business to get some lasting results!

    January 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  3. jj

    So, the baptists have learned what catholics learned a few years ago – hispanics=new money and power. So they will now pander to a group they likely despise. Oh, I forgot. Christian's are all loving and forgiving...

    January 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  4. newtonslaw

    The more uneducated the country, the more religious. Myths , Gods and demons are the rule of thumb in areas around the equator, where science seems more towards colder climbs. I guess the heat can get to you.

    January 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Jesus was a deranged azzhole. That was a long, long time ago. He's dead. He's gone. Ghosts are not real.


    January 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  6. tony

    Being religious is a mortal sin.

    January 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Chris

    "evangi-delusionals" – sorry, too lame to keep reading.

    January 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • miguel

      keep the families together and send them BACK. Yes back where they donate their extra Pesos every year to the tune of 42 BILLION DOLLARS back to their country via Western Union. They dont leave it here to help everyone else nope!

      January 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  8. Tim Tebow

    I am the best qb of all time.

    January 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Hello Mr. Brady.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Mr Off Topic

      9/11 was an inside job.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      Whose bench will you be sitting on as a seldom-used NFL backup QB next season?

      January 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  9. Hillcrester

    Most of what evangi-delusionals say, do, and advocate for nauseates me, but if they can help bring our illegal immigrant community out of the shadows and into legal, mainstream America–even if they do are doing good for wrong reasons–I will commend them for it. However, I don't think Congress will do anything meaningful about illegal immigrants living here this year.

    January 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Well, I think the article's about immigrants, not illegal immigrants. Xtians don't care much about illegals, they just want to recruit those who can actively help perpetuate their agenda of hate and hypocricy.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      Isn't it about "family . . . torn apart by deportation"? Read first paragraph. Admittedly, the article is silent about proposed actions/solutions, but it hardly requires action by Congress for churches to reach out to LEGAL immigrants, so . . . .

      January 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  10. Do It Do It

    What is the idiot in the picture doing? Is he telepathically communicating with god, the magic wizard who lives in the sky and all around us? Wow. You people are scary.

    January 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Edweird69

      It's difficult to communicate with something that doesn't exist. If you spend enough time convincing yourself that this magic being exists, then delusion can become a way of life.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      He looks as if he is doing Kobe Bryant's "airplane move" after a slam-dunk. Whiteboy version, of course.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • tony

      He's just finishing swallowing down the baby that was in the car seat behind him.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • OhNo

      "What is the idiot in the picture doing? Is he telepathically communicating with god, the magic wizard who lives in the sky and all around us? Wow. You people are scary."

      Why does every CNN faith forum end up as a forum where fools gather? A good article or comment can't be posted without fools comming and tearing it apart!

      January 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  11. 1stthoughts

    You mean they can't find Jesus in their country of origin and fix their own social and economic problems? Why is it that you have to travel to North America to find Jesus?

    January 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      Oh Jesus is in their countries – it's just that there's not as many freebies there, except poverty – there is an abundance of that to be had

      January 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  12. BostonBruins

    Oh boy, here we go again. I'm all for immigration reform, but why do the Evangelicals always have to force others to comply with their doctrine? Given their terrible track record and promotion of hate, I can only imagine which groups will be targeted for no entry! Jews, gays, Muslims, Hindus, etc!

    Scary to have them involved!

    January 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      You sound like you promote a lot of hate too, just of different people.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • GAW

      Many would welcome Jews since Christian Zionism has much support among Evangelicals

      January 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Hesh Rabkin from The Sopranos answered the question about Christian evangelicals and Zionism.

      Hesh's Daughter- The evangelicals are a great supporter of Zionism and the State of Israel.

      Hesh- Just you wait.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Sam Yaza

    Mexicans following the god of the butcher and rapist of your ancestors, its kind of like blacks worshiping the god of their enslaver or the Irish worshiping the god of butcher, rapist, and enslaver

    it just sickens me

    January 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Karl

      You are confusing use with a abuse.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Sam Yaza doesn't seem to be confusing anything. Christianity committed genocide on the ancestors of modern american minorities.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Karl

      And that's called abuse.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      The christians idea of use is abuse.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  14. Mohammad A Dar

    ....and Mr Rodriguez, why do you have all South American flags on wall in your Church, and no American flag?

    January 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • David

      How do you know there is not an American flag. You can't see the whole room. Typically an American flag is placed in the front of the room and this picture is looking at the back.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar


      I am afraid you're wrong David, I can provide a pictures of Mexican day parade in my town, with not a single American flag.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • David

      We're not talking about a Mexican Day parade in your town. You're pictures prove nothing about this church.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  15. Lemaitre

    Hispanics becoming evangelicals is the perfect move for both groups. 1) The brown skins can keep their conservative social outlook and 2) they are largely uneducated and so some minimally educated preacher can stand up and tell them anything, and everyone will buy it. It's a win/win for both camps.

    January 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  16. thoughts

    String theory & Genesis from some of the oldest books ever recorded. today's science community have yet to determIne what makes the smallest particles react, because nothing in the electromagnegic scale is relevant. The Bible written thousands of years ago addresses this complex problem in the first chapter ( GENESIS 1 thru 3) Read carefully and it will become clear that sound sparked creation..The question becomes how did a 4000 year old primative culture know how creation began. As you read you will discover that there was nothing anywhere and our planet is used as a refferance where we live. I hope this will inspire more reseach as spirituality and science both seek truth. H2O

    January 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • jill

      thoughts, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

      So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

      Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

      Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

      Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

      And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Origin of life

      @to thoughts

      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 1:48 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar


      bad thoughts

      January 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • GAW

      And what does this have to do with the article?

      January 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      1) You have a weak grasp on physics and an outdated view of quantum mechanics.
      2) By reading the oldest translations of the Book of Genesis, it is made clear that the gods were human-sized, lived in a place on a mountain, cut down trees with their hands and built buildings like any other human. They display human characteristics like starvation, jealousy, and annoyance with loud noise. Also the opening phrase to Genesis is not "In the beginning..." (as most modern christian bibles hold) so there is no reason to portray it as a beginning.
      3) By studying the older Canaanite mythologies that Genesis was based on and comparing it with Ugaritic myth, we can see that the gods had stories that took place before Genesis. They battled armies in ships on the ocean. And even though the hebrews will later worship Yahweh, we can see that from the start he was considered the wicked unfavorite son of El. Baal was the proferred son. There are even tales of fratricide between them that mirrors Cain and Abel (jak-baal).
      4) There is no sound that started creation, as the Hindus believe. Instead, Genesis told originally of how the world was water, and El used his breath (like Gilgamesh) to drive half the ocean into the sky and prop it up with four pillars. The ancients believed rain came from the leaks in the sky ocean. In modern translations this has been narrowed to one bare sentence about separating the waters and the firmament, but in ancient Canaan this part of the tale connects Genesis to the ancient Sumerian epics.
      There was no true moment of instantaneous creation. You're only attributing supernatural forces to ancient rulers, who were men and women just like us.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      There many that believe this repeated act of holding back the waters in ancient mythology was nothing more than a record of early construction of a dam (which explains why the Elohim have to cut down trees). And there are others that hold that the flood legends involved the destruction of such a dam.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  17. Mohammad A Dar

    America is not a promised land Mr Rodriguez, where it says in your Bible it's okay to break the laws of any countries because you believe in Jesus? why are you looking immigration issue from Church point of view, and not from country's point of view?

    January 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  18. sansiblevoice108

    We shed tears for ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. Those who follow the system provided are stuck for years together.

    Why the sudden compassion for ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS? TEARS = VOTES

    January 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Arrest, fine, and jail those who hire illegals. NO JOBS for illegals, NO ILLEGALS. Period. Done.

      January 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  19. infinite

    My country is the world, and my religion is to do good. Thomas Paine

    January 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  20. GAW

    Evangelicals know that Christianity is growing in the global south. They also know that within the next 20 years white middle class suburbanites within the US will no longer make be the majority demographic for Evangelicals in the world. Me thinks someone is trying to replace the old demographic with a new one.

    January 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • helloeyes

      I agree. As westernized countries are trending away from religion, there is a need for new demographics from which to recruit, and those from South America are (generally) very religious.

      January 13, 2013 at 2:23 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.