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. was blind, but now I see

    I can appreciate the author's desire to do what he thinks is right. But when he posts a long list of scripture verses that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the point he is trying to make, I have to wonder where he is really coming from????

    January 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Yeh, quoting scriptures is always a waste. No 2 Christians ever agree on what each scripture means anyway. 1 book, countless religions...the scriptures are ambiguous.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • chris

      I only saw 3...you say as if he copied and pasted the bible.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  2. Kevin, Kevin The Baker's Aunt

    Jesus was a white conservative, not a taco eating hispanic.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      my invisible pink unicorn will see your troll and raise you two leprechauns

      January 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      nothing comes out good from mouth of bigot cross-dressing goon Kevin

      January 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  3. was blind, but now I see

    1Pe 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

    1Pe 2:14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

    1Pe 2:15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

    1 Peter 2:13-15

    January 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      3:14 Psalami – and lo, the invisible pink unicorn shat on your feeble head, and it was good

      January 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • sam stone

      quotes are only convincing to those who accept the authority of the work quoted, was blind

      January 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      Doesn't say much for anything you post then does it, stoned?

      January 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  4. bluto

    White Evangelical Christians, and the political party that (for better or worse) represents them (the Republican party), are dead set against immigration. It is misleading and dishonest to claim that Evangelicals are "pushing" for immigration reform.
    The CNN story focuses on immigrant Evangelicals, which by no means represent the opinions of the White Evangelicals.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • fyouell

      Polling data shows that evangelicals are the single group most opposed to mass immigration

      January 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • g.r.r.

      Actually, I think that all of us that want to modify the laws want immigration reform. I know that I want to see it reformed. And to me, that means that ALL companies must use e-verify, and only sub out to those that are e-verified. In addition, we should require that if e-verify does not work, then the companies must use the next version of checking employees. Regardless, the illegals should be denied jobs and any gov. assistance.
      At the same time, those that fit the dream bill, should be on a track to earn citizenship by serving the USA.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  5. Rich

    I laugh every time I see religion involved in anything. Most church going folks are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      You know this personally?

      And, at the same time, you don't know of any hypocritical aetheists?

      January 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  6. Tom

    If the churches continue to try to affect public policy, its time for them to lose their tax exempt status. Taking church dollars to influence the electorate in general, and politicians in particular goes way beyond the traditional, and legal, role of "the Church". They want to play in the state house and Washington, they can buy a ticket just like the rest of us that pay our taxes.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • It is called

      The IRS can make them pay, haven't seen it yet.
      Property taxes too.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  7. Nick

    While it sucks for immigrants, this is just not an issue that should matter right now. We need to figure out how to support the citizenbase that we already have before we worry about letting it continue to expand exponentially.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      Illegal immigrants already living here and their families are an integral part of the issue you raise. They participate in the economy in a variety of ways.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • fyouell

      Illegals take jobs Americans need. Illegals drive down wages that American workers depend on. Illegals (and their families) are massive welfare users. We can't afford them. Illegals and their children wreck our schools. We don't need to import high school dropouts whose children undermine public education. We don't need more poverty. We don't need more people who don't speak English.

      We don't need to make American into Mexico. That's what illegal immigration does.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  8. Hillcrester

    Effective coalitions often require participation of people/groups that ordinarily don't agree about much else. Same here. This should not be about religion–pro or con–but about how to mobilize political support for sensible policies for addressing the facts of illegal immigrants. If the evangi-delusionals are willing to join, good for them!

    January 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • fyouell

      Illegals take jobs Americans need. Illegals drive down wages that American workers depend on. Illegals (and their families) are massive welfare users. We can't afford them. Illegals and their children wreck our schools. We don't need to import high school dropouts whose children undermine public education. We don't need more poverty. We don't need more people who don't speak English.

      We don't need to make American into Mexico. That's what illegal immigration does.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  9. Yarah

    Forgive them Father, for they don't know what they are saying.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      You're supposed to be over 13 to post here.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  10. Kebos

    Evangelicals are all about power, control and wealth. Religion is all about power, control and wealth.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  11. Mohammad A Dar

    Evangelical goons are known to bet on wrong horses anyway

    January 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  12. joe


    Except that story is merely a fictionalized account of the pharoah Thutmoses who united the warring tribes of the eastern Mediterranean into 12 nation states by building a religion based on the line of Jacobian (Jehovan) kings.
    my reply: so what happened to the cananites? they just ceassed to exist? so every atrocity in the bible is just fiction according to you?

    January 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Edweird69

      If the atrocities of the bible are true, heaven sounds more scarey to me than he11.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Science

      No fairy stories as fact

      From CNN belief blog

      Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says – CNN ...
      May 17, 2011 – By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen

      January 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Robert

      The best fiction includes truth.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  13. Teapatriot

    deport all illegals. over and out.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      Not gonna happen. What's your second choice?

      January 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • frontgate

      No, this is the land of immigrants. And they're staying, regardless of all wing nut ranting. So there. HAHAHAHAHAHA

      January 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • fyouell

      Eisenhower got rid of 1-2 million illegals in just 3 months with 1000 Federal agents. Wasn't even hard. Using Federal agents and state and local police, we could remove them all in a few weeks.

      They would not be missed.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  14. Mike R

    Illegal immagrents didn't cross the border, the border crossed them. Give back and God will bless you and your future generations.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • fyouell

      We have a border. You may not like it, but it is real. Illegals crossed that border without the permission of the American people.

      We don't want them. We don't need them. We won't miss them when they lieave.

      Illegals are like a migraine headache. You don't miss it when it goes away. You don't want it back either

      January 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  15. creative36

    When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the american flag and carrying a cross.

    – Sinclair Lewis

    January 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  16. deliberatus

    WE do not deport people back home because they are evil people; we deport them home for being here illegally. I am of the impresion that your faith commands you to honor the laws of the land; therefore, you should support deporting illegal aliens, and encourage them to come here by legal means, not illegal ones. Were we to deport persons for being evil, a number ofpersons ihn high office would be at risk.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      Once people are living here and participating in community life, why is it so important how they got here? We recognize the injustice at the core of Les Misérables; why re-create it here? The border is like Valjean's loaf of bread,

      January 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • fyouell


      If I break into your home and squat, do I get to stay there because I have already moved in?
      If I steal your car and drive it, do I get to keep it because I have been using it for a while?
      If I steal your credit cards and buy stuff, do I get to keep the stuff and keep using your cards?
      If I kidnap your daughter and take her home, do I get to keep her because I have had her for a while?

      Illegals have cheated our immigration system and profited from the burdens they impose on our nation.

      Deport them all.

      January 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  17. rhondajo3

    I agree. Because we and the past generations have decided to not have children, we need the Mexican families to help build up the economy. I live in a very multi cultural county, and it is the Mexicans who are starting new business. This is our future.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      Immigrants have always helped move our country forward. Before we started limiting immigration, they had only poverty, language, and xenophobia to overcome–now they gave those and the law blocking their integration into society as full members. Let's do what we can to bring them into the American Dream, for the benefit of all of us.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • fyouell

      Mexicans and the children of Mexicans don't do well in American. We don't needs 50%+ illegitimacy. We don't children who fail in our schools. We don't need massive welfare dependency. We don't need Mexico's crime problems. We don't need people who don't speech English.

      His is an easy test of the sanity of U.S. immigration policy.

      How can it possibly make sense to import people who demand and rather obviously need racial quotas?

      January 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  18. RichardSRussell

    Beware of fundamentalists bearing messages.

    "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."

    —Bishop Desmond Tutu

    January 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  19. Willyboy

    Unless these Christofascist freaks are spreading the message that they intend to isolate themselves on a remote island and wait for Sky Daddy to rapture them, I really don't care to hear *any* messages from them. The only encouraging news WRT these whack jobs is that their numbers are shrinking rapidly and as a result their significance is shrinking rapidly.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Hillcrester

      I have no sympathy for evangi-delusionals in general, but if their efforts can help regularize the status of long-term members of the illegal immigrant community, I will commend them for that.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  20. Edweird69

    “There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious
    believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after
    death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of truth until the end of the world;
    everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell… An average Christian, in an average church, listening to
    an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse.

    January 13, 2013 at 5:09 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.