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. Bruce H.

    Evangelicals, not Atheist, are pushing for immigration reform. Atheist are beating up Evangelicals that are trying to do something. I never see the words Atheist and Good together in any topic.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Folkingtales

      Exactly!!!!!!! That's what I am trying to say.

      Atheiests generalize, make rediculous statements and assumptions. Bunch of haters.....if you ain't got nothing good to say....say nothing. At least these people want to do better and are trying to. All you do is complain about their faith, losers.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • El Flaco

      There is no atheist party or atheist lobby. Atheists have very little in common. Atheists are just people who don't believe in something. That's not what I'd call common ground.

      Atheists have no political agenda, except to maintain the separation of church and state and to reduce the influence of religious dogma on our political system.

      There is no atheist position on immigration, global warming, evolution, cancer research, or anything else. Some atheists are wonderful brilliant people, like George Orwell, and others are monsters, like Stalin. Some Christians are wonderful people, like Barack Obama, and some Christians are monsters, like Michelle Bachman.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • dreamer96

      Henry Ford was a great inventor...helped many,.built cheep cars for the illegal immigrants so they could be taken from one low paying, back breaking job to the next,.but disliked, and distrusted the Jews, even built tanks for Hitler before Pearl Harbor... .What does that make Henry Ford?....

      January 13, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Jenny

      Nobodi should beat up anyone. Maybe you should talk to their parents and tell them their kids are being physical. Have some hot cocoa and talk. Explain to them how pants work and show them the nutritional value of hair.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • reddog

      Folkingtales: "Atheiests generalize, make rediculous statements and assumptions. Bunch of haters..." Sounds a bit like a generalization to me, and I don't even have a dog in this fight like you do.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Fr33domhawk

      Evangelicals in Alabama passed the most draconian of anti-immigrant laws. Evangelicals cheered at the thought of an ininsured American dying in the gutter rather than getting medical treatment. More than half of Evangelicals pretend that Obama was born in Kenya. Evangelicals are putting bumper stickers on their cars that ask people to pray for the death of Obama. Evangelicals like Bryan Fischer are the leaders of hate-groups, inciting sedition if not outright terrorism.

      The Evangelicals in the article who are so passionate about being nice to immigrants are mostly non-whites. Go practice make-believe over at FOX News. Until Limbaugh and FOX order their fascist minions to support illegal immigrants, for the purpose of dragging down wages and workplace safety, the minions will keep electing fascists like Arpaio to office.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Origin of life

      Bruce H.
      What about the Red Croos?
      What about Doctors without borders.
      Buuch more to list

      January 13, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Larry Hannah

      Evangelicals are only going to do something so long as it fills their ranks. You say Atheist and Good are never in the same topic? Well i never see a topic about Evangelicals that doesnt include gathering more sheep for cash.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • aspblom

      Reform would involve following the example of the great Nordic democracies in which all illegal immigrants are deported and there is no birthright citizenship. Job records are regularly monitored inorder to detect hiring of illegal immigrants so that they may be deported.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • dreamer96

      Rome was a small city..and controlled by non-Christians..what made Rome grow and become a great power was they accepted people from anywhere and watched and learned from them, taking the knowledge of the new immigrants, and improving on it..If they had been like the other cities of their time and refused the immigrants a place to live and work,...they never would have grown to be the Roman Empire....But alas Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely...That is the failing of all great powers...

      January 13, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Folkingtales

      Well the generalizations I was speaking off are in these comments.

      "All evangelicals need are sheep for more money"–Yea, ok....there is not one bit of goodness involved, I doubt that.

      "God changed his mind about Hispanics, now they are equal to white people"–Racist comment.

      "Evangelicals in general are undereducated and trained to think what they are told"–If you were to go through these pages you will find many others.

      By the way...in Nordic countries they have certain socialist goverment. Do you know how many % of their income they pay in taxes? It is extremely high to support all their social welfare programs. Don't know about you....but I'll take my chances with capitalism. I want what I have earned, not what I think I deserve just because I am. (except my inaliable rights, which we provide to immigrants and most others on in our land)

      January 13, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Larry Hannah

      I never said they are not doing good things. I said the things they do that are good don't come without involving religion and gathering more people.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • dreamer96


      Google famous Atheist inventors......I guess inventors do no good....

      January 13, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  2. RWH

    It's noteworthy that Evangelicals, long associated with the white arm of the Republican party, are showing up late to the party. After the devastating loss of 2012 due to rejection of minorities and others, the Republicans are now pushing Hispanic Evangelicals to front for them and claim that God has changed HIS mind about the worthiness of brown-skinned, Spanish speaking people. Without this stamp of religious legitimacy, the GOP is stuck with losses in 2014 & 2016 and beyond. They might do it. Evangelicals in general are undereducated and trained to think what they are told. Next, we may see a prominent religious Evangelical woman stating that God has changed HER mind and it is now politically acceptable to embrace women as a voting block.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Mennoknight

      Hi friend,
      Jesus was brown skinned not white skinned.
      From a Born Again Evangelical that held his nose and voted for Obama twice.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • What?

      It is also noteworthy that there are some evangelicals who are genuine with their faith, so much so that they disassociate themselves with plolitics, because they view politics, whether it be the republicans, democrats, or any other political thought, as man's futile attempt to change themselves.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  3. Origin of Life

    Origin of Life

    BRAND NEW FOR review

    Don't need religion to tell us where Origin of Life began OR how LIFE WORKS

    Origin of Life: Just add WATER !!!
    Hypothesis Traces First Protocells Back to Emergence of Cell Membrane Bioenergetics

    Dec. 20, 2012 — A coherent pathway – which starts from no more than rocks, water and carbon dioxide and leads to the emergence of the strange bio-energetic properties of living cells – has been traced for the first time in a major hypothesis paper in Cell this week.

    It is called Seperation of Church and State

    Can't teach ID/creationism in public schools in US as fact. PERIOD

    NOVA | Intelligent Design on Trial – PBS
    Nov 13, 2007 – Featuring trial reenactments based on court transcripts and interviews with key participants, including expert scientists and Dover parents, ...

    New science standards created by MAJORITY of 26 states for 2013 (Stem).

    January 13, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Bruce H.

      Funny thing, we never see Science projecting what the future of man will be, but, they seem to be pretty darn confident when using billions and billions of years in the past.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Origin of life

      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 8:58 am |
  4. Folkingtales


    I absolutely agree with beating kids butts and telling them they are screwed-up (when they did, no i do not mean abuse) . It will make them psyc. strong and ready for real life. Instead of non-stop praise and telling them that they are so unique and smart and are the best thing ever.

    This is exactly why we have a generation of irrational thinker obsessed with "trends", yet they still fashion themselves to be the pinnacle of intelligence.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • dreamer96

      SO you are saying...When the company plant owners hires thugs to beat up the striking workers it is okay,...because the plant owners know what is right from wrong?

      January 13, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Mennoknight

      Hello friend. I was a youth pastor for 13 years before taking a lead pastor position.
      About 1/3 of youth have to high a view of themselves because everyone around them tells them how great they are. They need discipline. That discipline needs to start at a young age.
      But on the others side about 1/3 of youth hate themselves. The reason they hate themselves is that the people around them tell them that they are worthless.
      And about 1/3 of the youth fall in between these extremes. They need to be told, they need discipline and that they are worth so very very much.
      My council to you is don't overreact because of what you see in 1/3 of kids because you will do much harm to the hurting 1/3.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • dreamer96

      So we should bring back public floggings? Public executions?...Don't they do that in the Middle East?...Oh and the Middle East is known for being so Peaceful and Friendly?

      January 13, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  5. Nate

    How much empathy can Christianity generate when it requires that wisdom begin with fear and outsiders be tortured?

    January 13, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Folkingtales

      Defenitely more than you can.....just saying.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  6. joesmith

    there is an old quip, "there are no athiests in fox holes"..however," kindness is the language the blind can see, and the deaf can hear"..Today is the first day of the rest of your life..make it a good one..

    January 13, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  7. Blah

    There is no Jesus, there is only Zuul!

    January 13, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  8. Larry Hannah

    Found it! Knew it was in there somewhere.

    "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."

    Just can't seem to get it right. "Were gonna do something nice for ya ..but...lemme make sure I can spread my doctrine first."

    January 13, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Folkingtales

      Well no ****, what did you expect? Libs do the same thing, and so does the whole humanity.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • Larry Hannah

      @Folkingtales Soooo you think it's okay to indoctrinate and brainwash for profit in the guise of doing something good? They help people stay in this country using that persons hopes and ideals and then pulling them into their money church. Yup all of humanity does that and sounds okay to me.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  9. alpinequeen

    Besides proselytizing, they should get the immigrants to Anglicize their names for better assimilation.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • El Flaco

      I agree. They should change their names to something that is more American sounding like Obama or Rodriguez.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  10. Husband and new father to be...

    Want to fix US immigration quick... quit trying to reinvent it... outsource and adopt the Chinese system and enforce it here.
    China doesn't take MONTHS / YEARS to grant immigration visas.

    Marry someone in China... and you can go live there... no problem...visa in 1 day.
    Marry someone in the USA... and you wait... 9-12 months... requiring "yes's" from 2 separate US Departments.

    The current US Department of State is granting Chinese women with no connection to the USA visitor visas allowing them to have their baby in the USA... thus making the child a US citizen.
    Yet a law-abiding US citizen father will probably have to file a form i-130 for his new child to become a US citizen, because his wife probably won't get a visitor visa. (US Department of state assumes all potential immigrants will break US law and overstay their visa... probably since US Homeland Security does NOT completely enforce US Immigration law, and many US citizens help ILLEGAL immigrants hide.)

    Oh the irony...

    January 13, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • dreamer96


      If you were born in the area once covered by the Louisiana Purchase, or any region of the USA once controlled by the French..You can run for President of France.....Bill Clinton still has that option....

      January 13, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  11. dreamer96

    Tyson Foods, advertises in Mexico, in Spanish, for jobs in American Meat Processing Plants....
    If they push all the illegals out what will Home Depot do?......
    Who will clean the countries hotel rooms, cut the lawns of billionaires, clean up after the rich finish their parties and go home?

    January 13, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  12. Rich

    we need less fairy tales...just sayin

    January 13, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  13. Folkingtales

    I am amused by all these atheists and so called agnostics on CNN boards. Your extra long posts of lessons on logical thinking are in no way better then religios fanatics posting their verses everywhere. You have NO proof there is no God, you WANT your views to be incorporated into politics because you consider them to be up-to-date. Yet it is your sincere wish to kick religion out of politics...well, good luck with that. That will never happen, but go ahead believe with your blind "faith" that one day...one day...religion will be gone.

    You all make me laugh.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • El Flaco

      You have NO proof that there is no Allah, Jupiter, Moroni, Isis, Aphrodite, or Moon Goddess.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Larry Hannah

      @Folk Atheists may not have any proof that there are no gods but it doesn't matter because we do not have the burden of proof so its not up to us to prove it. And i'd like to hear what you think the terms atheist and agnostic mean since you seem to know.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  14. taxedmore

    Maybe we should just mail US Passports and citizenship papers to anybody in the world who wants them. We could also send applications (in their native language) for food stamps, subsidized housing, Medicaid, free cell phones, SSI, TANF, etc. This would save all those people the trouble of having to sneak across the border or take an "anchor baby" flight into the country. Oh – and be sure to tell them that our laws do not apply to them.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  15. TommyTT

    You bet "this is personal." Telling someone, "My religion is right and yours is wrong, so you must change" is very personal. It's also smug and disrespectful, no matter how well-intended.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  16. taxedmore

    BTW – it is the people who came here illegally who are breaking up their families. They should either have stayed in their home country, come here legally or take their kids with them when they do go home. Americans who want the laws of the country enforced are not the ones breaking up families. Our laws are not breaking up families. The people breaking our laws are the ones breaking up their families.
    I am not separating families. The government is not separating families. The law is not separating families. The people who came here illegally are separating families. Point the liberal fingers in the right direction.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • 13directors

      There would be no United States of America had they followed your rules.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:40 am |

      You do not have a clue what are you talking about. It is true that many inmigrants ( afew percentage BTW) it is true they use the perks because they can't freely have the same chances as the others ..well I better stop , you will hear wat you want to believe

      January 13, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  17. joshua

    See dr owour kakamega revival see that God is real. here is the proof.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  18. coloradodog

    Rodriguez is a Fox News neochristian – a Latino token pawn of the hateful and intolerant religious right.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  19. dreamer96

    When I was growing up the Catholic school teachers, the Nuns carried a stick and hit unruly students...I must be nice going to a school where everyone tells all the kids that they were born sinful, and evil, and they must bet it out of them...and the children's own parents sign over the right for the Nuns to hit their own kids....What a Loving God they have...

    January 13, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Sister Theckla


      January 13, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • dreamer96

      Sister ..You can not say that in a Catholic School, two whacks with the Nunchucks...

      January 13, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • reddog

      Sister, hurry your little butt straight into that confessional. You should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking those words.

      January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • dreamer96


      Thinking about it, is all the Nuns can do...

      January 13, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  20. El Flaco

    We should end all immigration. We have too many people and not enough of anything else.

    January 13, 2013 at 8:34 am |
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About this blog

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.