Last Thursday, after so much grueling debate and a tough amendments process, the Senate passed a comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. Now the bill moves from the grown-ups to the children in the Legislature, the House of Representatives, where Republicans are already playing politics with the issue, most likely thinking it will just magically “go away” like other reform attempts have.
But, the New York Times published a great article about how the pressures on the House are different this time. It was really encouraging.
The encouragement did not just come from Immigration Reform’s potential, but where Evangelicals have found themselves in the debate. In the article, there were these amazing lines:
Asked why he thought the overhaul had a fighting chance in the House, Ali Noorani, a veteran of many immigration wars, pointed to a big green mobile billboard that had circled Capitol Hill every day this week.
Its flashing message was “Praying for immigrants. Praying for Congress.” Groups of evangelical Christians prayed on the Capitol lawn for the Senate to pass its bill. Mr. Noorani’s group, the National Immigration Forum, has worked with Southern Baptists and other large evangelical denominations to coordinate prayer campaigns and run pro-overhaul spots on Christian radio stations in states where lawmakers might be persuaded to change their views.
“In 2007, we weren’t even on the radar,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodríguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an evangelical group. Mr. Rodríguez said he had been on the road continuously, addressing primarily non-Hispanic Christian conferences to spread the message on the overhaul.
Now, you may be an Evangelical and may be thinking “hey, I don’t agree with that bill!”. That’s not really my point. Evangelicalism has never been as monolithic or homogenous as many of its leaders have wanted it to be. I am under no illusion that all (or even most) Evangelicals find themselves actually agreeing with the Senate reform plan.
What’s more astonishing to me is that regardless of the nuances and complexities of thought among Evangelicals on this issue, this is the reputation Evangelicals are having in this discussion. This is what the wider world sees. This is what has been noted in America’s paper of record as the primary takeaway that the world needs to have when fitting in the force of Evangelicalism and Christianity into the broader narrative of this story.
Of the many forces this article talks about that push this discussion forward (religious, electoral, business, labour, etc.), I love that American Christians have the pride of place here as the first “force” listed.
For once, Evangelicals are being known for taking the lead in actual cultural change and not stalwart reactiveness to the force around them.
Yes, I know there are other potential factors: many Evangelicals might be more concerned with maintaining Republican dominance by “winning Hispanic votes” through this effort. Some may be reacting to their own demographic changes in the South, instead of their own heart and theological changes.
But still, it’s telling that none of these alternative narratives are offered in this piece.
I am certainly not one of those Christian twentysomethings that think that theological convictions have no place in one’s political beliefs, nor do I think that “laws” are inherently morally-neutral. All politics and legislation reflects one’s morality (just look at a nation’s wallet to see where their heart is) and, ultimately, their theological convictions. For once, I’m proud of American Christians as they interact politically on this issue.
As Christians, we are called to love Neighbor before Nation. Whatever “damage” you think these poor, marginalized people do to America economically, politically, or demographically, we are called to have more concern for their welfare than the welfare of the abstract idea of “our country”.
That’s not to say that illegal immigrants are not “breaking laws”, but as Christians we are not called to primarily relate to others based how obedient they have been to civil authorities or not. The main thing that dictates how we relate to them is the image of God in which they are made. And this has been sorely lacking in the Evangelical presence in this discussion.
There are few–if any–illegal immigrants that come to this nation with any malice in their heart or hostility in their intentions. At the very least, they deserve compassion before condemnation–especially from Christians. Even if you ultimately think they should legally be carted away, should not the first concern of Christians be to love them? Or at least not demonize them?
Illegal immigrants in America are some of the closest we’ll ever get to a single group that fits almost every criteria for those to whom Christian should offer support, deference, protection, and resources: the outcast, foreigner, poor, needy, alien, outsider, downtrodden, despised, and poor in spirit.
Supporting immigration reform is the easiest way that I can think of, in our current political situation, for Christians to follow-through with this oft-neglected dynamic of Christian faith. It’s one of the clearest ways that Christians can act “Christianly” in a direct, political way.
What do you think about the immigration bill? How does your faith guide this decision? How do you feel about Christians being known for this advocacy?
[image: “Barbed Liberty” by myself]