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. John P. Tarver

    By allowing an Amnesty now the imigration to the USA will be locked in for the next century. The tree generation rule from Washington's deal at Valley Forge with the 10,000 Hessians who would leave the English on Christmas morning is the Law still.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • Announcer At Woodstock

      We warned you not to take the brown acid John!

      January 14, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • Dippy

      Amnesty and law are not proper nouns. Don't capitalize them. It makes you look stupid. Are you stupid?

      January 14, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • bam

      they look like Proper nouns to me

      January 14, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • Jah Wobble

      Mix the peculiarities of capitalization in religion with the low literacy level displayed by way too many religious people here, and it's no wonder they randomly capitalize. Add the tortured illogic to the mix and it is a wonder they all don't write like hindu-hater.

      January 14, 2013 at 1:46 am |
    • Dippy

      Jah, you've solidly struck the nail on its head.

      January 14, 2013 at 2:20 am |
  2. John P. Tarver

    South of our border is an excellent place to find Christians to add to the US population. I had some misgivings about Amnesty before, but the Atheists have caused me to face the reality of an upwardly mobile Hispanic Christian majority in America.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
    • Arvn Huac

      Well that made no sense at all.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • Dippy

      Atheist and amnesty are not proper nouns. Don't capitalize them. It makes you look stupid. Are you stupid?

      January 14, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • Sue

      Even if they remain Catholic Christians instead of converting into evangelicals? I see the deal here. Sponsor Catholic immigrants through your evangelical churches, and tie your helping them to stay in the country to programs where they convert and join your church, right? Use your money and influence to buy more church members who will then increase your money intake and influence. Solid business strategy.

      January 14, 2013 at 12:35 am |
    • Athy

      Dippy, improper (seemingly random) capitalization, as well as other grammatical and spelling errors, seem to be characteristic of the religies. It's like they pray too much and read too little.

      January 14, 2013 at 2:25 am |
    • sam stone

      translation: "i do not like hispanics, but with the growing acceptance of atheism, allowing the hispanics in is the best way to further my mythology"

      January 14, 2013 at 3:15 am |
  3. Peter

    Evangelicals suck. Most that I know just use their religion as a tool to force their will on others...and if they don't get their way they are being "oppressed". You give reasonable, rational Christians a bad name.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  4. Reality

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

    If we would cut our own grass, do our own landscaping, pick our own vegetables/fruit, cook our own food, clean our own laundary, care for own kids and clean our homes and churches/temples, there would be no need for Mexican, Haitian, Irish, Italian and/or Asian "slaves" and therefore there would be no illegal immigration.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  5. Solitairedog

    The Bible also teaches us to respect the sojourner in our land. Laws are man-made and can be changed when obedience to them requires us to behave immorally. Same goes for religious dogma. If a religious viewpoint is causing you to injure strangers, friends or family, you have gone awry somewhere. It really is that simple..We are capable of changing things up, it is our greatest survival skill. We need to move over and make some room for an injection of a new population and we have to do it with grace because it is, after all, already a fact. They are here, working, studying, building families and communities. We had an immigration wave, it happens, that's the way the world works. We must acknowlege and work with them for realistic solutions. We need to get down off the "high-horse" we have perched on.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
  6. Carlos Diaz

    As much as I loathe evangelicals for their ignorance and intolerance (some baptist included), this is actually a surprising move by them. First I couldn't stand them, now I'm confused.

    Well played, bible thumpers...Well played...

    January 13, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • bam

      this is how religions work... well since u cant excommunicate heretics anymore.... as the population gets more educated u have to ADJUST what "god" told u.....

      January 14, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  7. Nancy

    More flock, more money. Simple.

    January 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  8. Jim

    I am an evangelical Christian, and if one is illegal, they are breaking the law! Christians should understand this, but they don't. The Bible in Romans Chapter 13 say that we are to obey the laws of the land and obey those whom have authority over us! Illegal is illegal, which at this time is against the law. If one steal from a 7-11, they are breaking the law, and maybe facing jail or punishment, so what is the difference? Hypocracy runs rampant in every area, and if one is illegal, it is no better than robbing a bank since robbing or STEALING is aginst the law AND against Gods commandments....."Thou shalt not steal." The law is the law! I don't understand some evangelicals reasoning? I have dear friends in Guatemala, but I cannot have them here because it is illegal to have them here. It hurts me that they cannot come to the USA and we would help them, but the law is the law? Our gov't makes up laws, makes up or distorts ammendments to fit their desires instead of conforming to it! Our government is the worst hypocrites alive.......period!!!! I Peter 2:24 & Hebrews 13:17

    January 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • Kent Proctor

      It's worse than that: Jesus in at least four places rejects the rich as doomed. The family behind this are billionaires. Jesus also ordered Christians to keep their faith private, do unto others, and all sorts of things that these rich christians are totally violating. There is more levels to the religious hypocrisy here than can be counted.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • HarryJ

      "The Bible in Romans Chapter 13 say that we are to obey the laws of the land and obey those whom have authority over us!"
      Tell that to the evangelicals who said that they would revolt if Obama won the election. He's OUR president, and he rightly has authority over us, so these clowns are acting unBiblically, right?

      January 14, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • El Trump

      You'll miss me when I'm gone.

      January 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  9. bam

    I always wonder if these ch-r–i-s-t-i-a-n t-a-l-i-b-a-n are at odds that M-e-x-i-c-an i-m-m-i-g-r-a-nts are more d-e-v-o-u-t than them.... Their close a-n-c-e-s-t-o-rs were m-a-s-s-a-c-r-ed by the Spanish for w-o-r-s-h-i-p-i-n-g false g-o-d-s so their S-U-R-V-I-V-AL i-n-s-t-i-n-c-ts to accept this loony new g-o-d is still th-u-m-p–ing strong

    January 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Athy

      S-t-o-p u-s-i-n-g h-y-p-h-e-n-s, y-o-u f-u-c-k-i-n-g i-d-i-o-t.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • bam

      hi im too ignorant to know how to bypass cnn idiotic bans on random words

      January 14, 2013 at 12:23 am |
    • Dippy

      It's not that fucking hard. A fifth-grader could do it.

      January 14, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  10. Gnuut Jensen

    “I am hopeful that Congress can walk and chew gum and the same time,” Land said.

    Why on earth would he think that they can do Either?

    January 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • Gerry

      Our Republican majority Congress? Don't count on it!

      January 14, 2013 at 12:41 am |
  11. Banjo Ferret

    As a Tim fearing Ferretian, I am confused. Why would immigration be a religious issue? Seems they would come to the same conclusion regardless of which false sky daddy they worship. Ferretianism is the one true religion. Repent! (banjoferret d c)

    January 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • The Huge Mølars of Hørst Nørdfink

      A møøse-ferret once bit my sister. No realli! She was Karving her initials on the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law – an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian møvies: "The Høt Hands of an Oslo Dentist", "Fillings of Passion",

      January 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  12. steveo

    Wait, evangelicals FOR sensible immigration reform???? I was not expecting that one. Don't most evangelicals vote along the same party lines as the folks who want to deport/shoot/imprison every immigrant on sight?

    January 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Kablam!

      Of course these evangelicals want some hispanic immigrants. Their lawns are getting preeeeeeety scraggly and need some tending, and Jesus is just the wetba . . . immigrant to do it.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • Gerry

      Shoot/deport them if they're still Catholic immigrants, but if they can be turned into productive, and t_ithe-giving evangelicals then they can see them as Americans, and that's just solid recruitment practice.

      January 14, 2013 at 12:45 am |
    • Beloved

      Yes they are. What a joke!

      January 14, 2013 at 1:01 am |
  13. hh

    duh.....have the evangelicals finally decided to read the words of Jesus in the bible? Hey, there is even more in there if you read it all- like what Jesus had to say about violence and greed, and making peace. Read it pharisees and then keep going to your churches that teach you to hate and destroy God's beautiful creation- and be sure to pay that money to keep the message going!

    January 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  14. Mike Scott

    Oh brother...

    January 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  15. PraiseTheLards

    Shouldn't there be some type of I.Q. test required before being allowed to vote, speak to the public, or get into the brainwashing business?

    January 13, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Clear and Present Thinker

      That's been tried. It was called Jim Crow.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • Gerry

      I've seen shows where people born in the US were given the citizenship test that new immigrants take and, lets just say, that if everyone had to take that test then most of us already living here would have to pack our bags. Half of us couldn't even identify an outline of our own state if it was upside down. Half of us couldn't find Mississippi or India on a map, 3/4 can't find Israel on a map of just the Mid. East, and only half of US adults know what the three branches of our own government are.



      January 14, 2013 at 12:59 am |
  16. rad666

    Rev. Rodriguez, you must know that your God works in mysterious ways. Deportations is just one way.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  17. IvotedforObama

    If people truly believed in God's message of love then immigration wouldn't be an issue.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
    • Gir

      By god's message of love, you mean your own perspective, yes?

      January 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  18. Brampt

    Before immigrating illegally to a county a true Christian should reflect on this:
    Do I understand that entering a country illegally can bring serious consequences from the ruling authorities? True Christians are obliged to obey the laws of the land.—Romans 13:1-7."Let every soul* be in subjection+ to the superior authorities,+...Therefore he who opposes* the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves..."

    But of course, evangelical pastors are always looking for some ways to make to make money.... "“The growth in most of our churches is because of immigration. That is the future of our churches,” Wallis said matter-of-factly.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • rhondajo3

      While it is true that Christians should always go the legal route, our immigration laws do not allow for a speedy immigration process. It is time for immigration reform!

      January 13, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I wonder, Brampt, how you stand on Hobby Lobby refusing to follow the "laws of the land."

      January 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Before hiring illegal immigrants, maybe good christians should reflect on this: Arrest, fine, and jail those who hire illegals. NO JOBS for illegals, NO ILLEGALS. Period. Done.

      January 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • NatL

      "Growth" = $$$$$

      January 14, 2013 at 1:00 am |
  19. Jesus what is wrong with these religous nuts

    Oops, just answered my own question.

    January 13, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  20. Correctlycenter

    Romans chapter 13: Paul tells us to obey the government. The only time we should not obey is when it conflicts with God. Illegal immigration violates the immigration laws of the US, which doesn't conflict with the bible...

    January 13, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • A

      Eh, it's just a bunch more rubes for Elmer Gantry to shake down (and very eager ones indeed, historically). But if this finally gets the system fixed then so much the better.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • CalmDown

      Well, for those living in countries where there is no economic opportunity and are facing starvation, it conflicts with 1 Timothy 5:8 which says, "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

      January 14, 2013 at 5:08 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.