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. dreamer96


    Ever hear of the Right of Conquest....Ha Ha ...A Indian Chief seeing the end of his own people and all Indians in America, the land of his forefathers giving away to the White Man..predicted that the White Man too will lose this land and be replaced by a Brown Race of People....

    Christians only like to remember sayings and predictions by other Christians...but the fact that America has already changed from a majority of White People to and Majority of Minorities is proof the future of America will not be in the hands of the White Majority much longer..but instead a mix of many minorities a blending of the world races...

    January 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • RickF

      100% fact my friend!

      January 13, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • krehator

      I couldn't care less about the majority skin color. My fear is that it is turning into a land of selfish, and narrow minded idiots.

      It cuts both ways. The radical liberals and the radical conservatives need to get lost! They are bordering on terrorism, and I'm sick of their "patriotic" or "care bear" rhetoric being used to disguise their warped version of socialism. YES, they are BOTH socialists pointing finger at each other.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  2. NorthVanCan

    Sweden : least religious and # 1 in all things important.
    Afganistan : most religious and last in all things important.

    Looks obvious to me where heaven is.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • krehator

      Pseudo statistics? Yes, let us all rely on that. lol

      January 13, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  3. Rozznittz

    Religion is not above the law. Enter the legal way please. I cannot pick up and go to any other country without papers – I will be sent back to the US. Why should the US have different rules?? Other countries are dealing with this too. A the reality is – nothing can stop the movement of people seeking food and shelter!! It's a global world and this will get worse.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  4. david c.

    If you FEAR god, you are in the wrong space, period.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  5. Jaberwocky

    It is amazing to me that the Evangelicals do not realize that their congregants are mostly racists. This "push" will lead to nothing.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Where's your proof that the majority of Evangelicals are racist?

      January 13, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Their congregation, that is.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  6. Luis Wu

    Wow! Evangelical nut cases are turning into liberals. Who'd a thought?

    January 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • flambeauxfire

      Well alls I can say is that the Evangelical Christians have never impressed me.........until now

      January 13, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  7. empresstrudy

    The cognitive dissonance from the left will be fascinating. Evangelicals pushing hard for immigration reform and liberalization? Dear me CNN pundits heads will explode.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Luis Wu

      I think a lot of conservative teabigot heads will explode as well.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  8. bobness22@gmail.com

    Wow, evangelicals who actually following God's teachings. Shocking, but a positive step in the right direction.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Right on

      God's teachings or some made up ridiculous stories from the bronze age?

      January 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  9. Troy

    I don't care who you are or where you were born... we can not support you.. we don't have jobs for you to have the American Dream so let go of that kiss ass phrase, I am not impressed or feel that I owe you anything since you say you love America. Americans are living the American Nightmare right now and are just trying to get through it. So please if you love America stay away and let us figure out our problems and not compounding them and making them worse by making our tax dollars go towards supporting people that do not have a legal right to be here!!

    January 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • tony

      Everyone except Native Americans leave immediately.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • S Elliott


      January 13, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  10. Origin of Life

    BRAND NEW FOR review All starts with the brain.

    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 Separation 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).

    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 10:18 am |
    • ???????

      Takes the g-od(s) out of the PICTURE aye OK

      January 13, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  11. tony

    Jesus's second coming was a few years back. He was born in the Gaza part of the Holy Land this time, then bombed to bits while just a toddler by the Evangelicals favorite Holy Land Occupiers.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  12. Ray E. (Georgia)

    So tell me Rodiquiez, why do you want to be in the United States? Why not Mexoco or some other country? And why do you want to jump the line? Other's are coming to the U.S. by going thru the Legal Process. Maybe you don't knoe how to do it legally. You want to become a Citizen of the U.S.? There is a legal way.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  13. Theamology

    How sad it is that these religious leaders choose that particular passage of the bible to reinforce their ideology. They thus perpetuate the myth that God is some hideous being that casts the children he creates into the physical pain of a burning lake of fire. It is due to the belief that such a tortuous being must be worshipped that religious men today kill young girls and boys who are only trying to grasp their human rights to education and freedoms of expression and belief.

    If Christianity can begin to evolve, if Christianity can begin to declare that these old scriptures are mistaken, then all of the world’s religions can begin to evolve towards the beautiful God we all can plainly see and then all of the children of the world will become free.

    We can all see the true nature of God, if God exists at all, by observing the decisions of God. This very morning God decided to create hundreds of thousands of infant children and entrust them to us for safe-keeping. As such we were all created as the children of God and entrusted to each other. The God we all can see is therefore very beautiful and loving in nature, expressing faith, hope, and love for us, his created children.

    Man has a tendency to want to follow, and he makes the mistake of picking up a book and making a decision of belief that it is infallible. He becomes blinded and trapped, unable to escape from the fear of a youth-torturing God who has never existed. We must stop depicting God as the hideous creator of eternal torture in hell, we must correct the mistakes made in our ancestral scriptures, we must do this so that our religious men might be healed and enabled to finally understand the love of our creator.

    The nature of our creator is evident in the universe! We never needed a book or a revelation or even a single word from God. Close your books and walk out into the earth and observe the Decisions of God. God is outstandingly beautiful and we are daily overwhelmed by his expressions of love.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  14. krehator

    Many Christians are only Christians when it is convenient. They better prey that Heaven is immigrant friendly.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  15. azsmodeus

    Wait. As soon as they give up their tax exempt status since we separate tax and state, THEN they have a voice for my ears, perhaps.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  16. TG

    The video that is to be released on Monday that features Matthew 25:31-46 is not speaking of helping a "stranger", but rather Jesus there at Matthew 25:31-46 is speaking of those who are Jesus spiritual "brothers" (Heb 2:17), those with the "heavenly calling" (Heb 3:1) being assisted by those who are not his "brothers" to accomplish the global preaching and teaching work about God's kingdom, assigned to all who are genuine Christians. These ones who assist Jesus "brothers" have the hope of living on an earthly paradise. (Matt 5:5)

    By providing Jesus "brothers" with preaching and teaching assistance as well as as in time of need as when they are sick, or thirsty or hungry ( for Jesus "brothers" are a "little flock" (Luke 12:32) in comparison with them), these gain Jehovah God's approval. (Matt 25:40)

    However, the churches of Christendom have not offered any assistance to Jesus "brothers." (Matt 25:41-44) Therefore, Jesus said: "Truly I say to you (the churches), To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me. And these ones will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones (those who assisted Jesus "brothers" or "anointed ones", Rom 8:15-17) into everlasting life."(Matt 25:46)

    January 13, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  17. Lib-turd

    NO illegals in my country EVER. They can cover themselves in the cloth of Christianity all they want but real Christians obey the law and DO NOT sneak over the border. They are criminals and their bible rejects their actions.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • So What

      So says the Bigoted republican evangelical...

      January 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • krehator

      Yes, Jesus would have kicked them out and been harsh about it. lol

      January 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • RickF

      Then tell that to JESUS who protected and was followed by the "outcasts"of society in his days. Also, I want you to live since your birth in a 12×12 room, where the floor is of dirt, with your a whole family struggling to eat and then tell me if you wouldn't try to cross any which way you can to escape this misery. You need to know what it is. But then again, since you have not experienced it you don't care!

      January 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  18. Ponchos raincoat

    Religion and political choice are two of the biggest myths running. Break away from these myths and just live.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  19. Johnny

    "These are wonderful, God-fearing, family-loving people."

    "Wonderful" and "God-fearing" don't belong together, and the latter is a synonym for "weak-minded, brainwashed, and ignorant". It's not something to be proud of.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  20. GO_GOP

    Our founding fathers wanted to create USA as a White, Christian country. We have sadly given up that ideal in our misguided pursuit of political correctness and the results are for all to see. These people are not welcome in our country and I do not care if they are evangelicals. They do not belong here.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • So What

      That is why the GOP lost the White House and the reason they will lose way more...

      January 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Sickntired

      You, Sir/Mam are a bigot.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • ConnieLynn

      Wow – you scare the hell out of me. Thank God there is a separation of church and state. I'm white and not a Christian like you. Better wake up, you are becoming the minority.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • krehator

      You cannot count on much sense from organized religion. It's all emotional babble based on words written by ancient men about an invisible deity, of which their were many.

      Additionally, if religion wants to get involved in politics, pay taxes.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • VBDVDB

      America was not founded on Christian values, America was founded on rum. IF our founding fathers had just stood alone with their eyes closed and arms out (like the guy in the picture) and prayed the British would leave, we would still be under British rule. Instead, the indulged in rum and beer in local pubs and taverns which gave them the liquid courage to fight what seemed like an impossible battle at the time. If you want to thank God for something, thank God for alcohol because that is what America was truely founded on, not Christian or white values.

      January 13, 2013 at 10:33 am |
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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.