Why Evangelicals Are the New Partners for Immigration Reform

Amy E. Black, Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2013

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Despite this difficult climate, political support is rapidly building in favor of legislation that has confounded presidents and Congresses since 1986: comprehensive immigration reform. Advocates trying to build a winning coalition for reform should seek support from an unlikely source—evangelical Christians.

Evangelicals have been a key Republican voting bloc for several decades. According to exit polls, about 1 in 4 voters in November’s election was a white Evangelical, and they voted overwhelmingly Republican.

Although most Americans associate theologically conservative Christians with cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage, the evangelical political agenda is broadening. Immigration reform is one issue that has steadily gained momentum.

What might account for this change?

For one, pastors and religious leaders are talking more about the issue as a religious concern. Many scriptural passages relate to immigration—including the famous 40-year wilderness journey of the children of Israel to the Promised Land. But most evangelical churches and organizations have only recently begun to underscore the biblical connection to immigration.

New pro-immigrant movements are seeking to educate and activate evangelical clergy and voters by emphasizing themes of love, justice, and welcome for the stranger that resound throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.

Another factor that explains increasing awareness of immigrant issues is simple math.

Much like the nation, evangelicalism is becoming more ethnically diverse. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 13 percent of Hispanic Americans describe themselves as evangelical Protestants. Immigrant churches are growing rapidly, and many denominations have created new structures and leadership posts designed to serve Hispanic congregants. Immigration—including illegal immigration—touches the lives of many in the pews, and church leaders want to help.

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In October 2011, Cedarville University, a conservative Christian college in Ohio, hosted the “G92” immigration conference. Taking its name from the Hebrew word for immigrant, ger, which appears 92 times in the Hebrew Bible, the conference has spawned a new movement designed to mobilize Christian college students to advocate on behalf of all immigrants. Leaders are planning half a dozen events across the country in 2013.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, founded in June 2012 by nine heads of evangelical organizations, is networking with evangelical leaders from across the spectrum to support immigration reform. Founders include the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a large umbrella group representing many denominations and associations; Richard Land, an outspoken conservative and Southern Baptist leader; and Jim Wallis, bestselling author and leader of the left-leaning social justice organization Sojourners.

In June 2012, the Table released a wide-reaching, seven-point plan for immigration reform that included a call for secure borders, protection of family unity, and a path toward legal status or citizenship. {snip}

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The week after the presidential election, the Table sent letters to President Obama and congressional leaders asking for a meeting within the first 92 days of the president’s new term to move forward reform legislation. {snip}

{snip} Data from a 2010 Pew Research Center study suggest that grass-roots Evangelicals are divided, but a majority (54 percent) now favor policies that include some sort of pathway to citizenship.

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