Since the 2012 election, immigration reform has surfaced as a front-burner issue. Analysis of voting trends showed Republicans that their hopes of ever winning another major election might hinge on attracting larger numbers of Latino voters. If Romney had done half as well with Hispanic voters as George Bush did, he would have succeeded in his Presidential campaign. In 2012, Republicans started paying attention.
But before the 2012 election, a different group discovered the importance of advocating for immigration reform: Evangelical Christians.
In 2006, the last time that immigration reform was being considered, Evangelicals stood on the sidelines, not seeing it as their issue. Catholics advocated for reform, as did mainline Protestants, but Evangelicals were nowhere to be found. That began to change in early 2011 when a group of Evangelicals that included Michael Gerson, Jim Wallis, and Richard Lard wrote a document called “An Evangelical Statement of Principles on Immigration Reform.” Later that year, many of these same individuals gathered at Cedarville University for a conference called G92, a reference to the 92 passages in the Old Testament that speak to the issue of immigration.
The change among Evangelicals can be traced to individuals like Danny Carroll, Matthew Soerens, and Jenny Hwang, who wrote very persuasively about the scriptures’ teaching on immigrants. Polls show that the majority of evangelical Christians support immigration reform as long as it adheres to basic biblical principles, such as family unity, human dignity, and rule of law. At a recent meeting with World Relief, we identified seven themes that resonate with evangelicals.
First, immigration should be viewed primarily as a biblical matter. Scripture is filled with narratives about immigration. Abraham, Rebekah, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, Paul, and even Jesus were immigrants. Christ was an immigrant in a theological sense when he left Heaven and became incarnate here on Earth to identify with our struggles and die for our sin. But he was also a political refugee when he and his parents fled the wrath of Herod’s corrupt regime. Scripture tells us that God loves and provides for immigrants (Deut. 10:18, Psalm 146:9) and he challenges his people to remember that they too are immigrants (Lev. 19:33-34). Immigrants even show up in the Ten Commandments when God tells us not to deny them Sabbath rest. In the New Testament, God uses immigration as a metaphor for what it means to enter God’s Kingdom (Hebrews 13:11).
Second, immigration is a missional opportunity. We are called to make disciples of all nations and immigration brings the mission field right to our door. Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary reports that 86% of immigrants are likely to either be Christians or to become Christians after they immigrate. Christians should perceive immigration as an opportunity for ministry and evangelism, not as a political threat. A field manual prepared by World Relief reminds us that immigrants are not in our local communities by mistake; rather it is part of God’s sovereign plan. As followers of Christ we should practice grace and hospitality toward the immigrants who move into our communities. Not only will this be a testimony to of God’s grace to the immigrants themselves, but it will also send a powerful message to those who question the relevance of Christianity to the challenges of contemporary culture.
Third, immigration is an urgent issue impacting the church in the United States. The face of Christianity in America is changing. Immigrant congregations are growing much faster than other segments of the church. According to Michael Emerson and Christian Smith, 92.5% of American churches are largely segregated, in spite of the fact that there is one church, one body, and one baptism. The church isn’t a country club for a bunch of angry old white guys; it’s a place of celebration for people of many hues, different languages, and varying nations of origin. We are told that heaven will be a place where people of different nations worship together and we are also taught by Christ to pray that heaven will come quickly. Embracing immigrants and welcoming them into our homes and churches is one way to get a small taste of heaven.
Fourth, immigration is a family issue. Christians have been quick to talk about how deeply they value the unity of the family, but many of these same individuals support immigration policy that separates children from their parents. This happens frequently and it happens in our community. While working on this article, I received a phone call about a brother in Christ who is sitting in a jail cell in Springfield tonight due to a minor traffic violation. Jim Daly of Focus on the Family has endorsed evangelical principles for immigration reform because there are over two million mixed-status families in the United States today who could be torn apart by deportation. Such deportations often remove the primary wage earner, putting the whole family at severe economic risk.
Fifth, immigration is a justice issue. Many evangelicals lament the fact that they were on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the gospel during the Civil Rights Movement. We failed to realize that taking a stand for justice is an essential part of faithfulness to the Christian message. It is rooted in the prophetic aspect of our faith. We are called to set aside our own comfort and speak truth to people in power. Esther did this. Daniel did this. Martin Luther King did this, and we are called to do likewise. Isaiah 1:17 tells us to “seek justice.” John Perkins, the African American founder of the Christian Community Development Association says that immigration reform is one of the great justice issues of our time. Perkins has paid the price of injustice and earned the right to speak with authority on this topic. Other people of color such as Barbara Williams Skinner call immigration “the civil rights issue of our day.”
Sixth, evangelicals need to be wary of groups who do not share our values and who are eager to mislead us on immigration. Glenn Beck did not write the sixth gospel; and Rush Limbaugh may be very entertaining, but his positions on immigration do not reflect biblical values such as grace, humility, hospitality, and human dignity. Groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA pose as conservative political organizations with “concerns” about immigration. In reality, they are hate groups motivated by eugenics and a desire to prevent the “mixing of the races.” Their leaders are on record calling China’s one-child policy, enforced with forced abortions and infanticide, the model for the rest of the world. These groups allege that immigrants are filling our nations prisons, committing much of the nations crime, and sponging off our generous social programs. All of these assertions have been forcefully refuted by conservative organizations like the Cato Institute (see research by Alex Nowrasteh).
Finally, as Christians we should promote immigration policy that reflects biblical values, unifies families, supports rule of law and national security, is fair to taxpayers, and provides a compassionate and reasonable solution for the 12 million who are already hear without documentation. To read more about such policy, I encourage you to visit the websites for the Evangelical Immigration Table (http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/) or G92 (http://g92.org/) to learn more about how scripture can inform our approach to immigration reform. Also, allow me to suggest three action steps that you can take today.
- Go the Evangelical Immigration Table site and sign up for the Pray4Reform campaign.
- Google the “I was a Stranger” Challenge and commit to reading 40 passages that inform our approach to immigration.
- Call (866) 877-5552 and tell your legislator that you support compassionate and common sense reform to our nations immigration laws.
Oh, and one last thing: Get to know an undocumented person. You just might meet a brother or sister in Christ.