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  by  Roy Beck

A Brookings Institute conference today about the near unanimity of the nation's religious leaders in favor of amnesty and more foreign workers cast the debate in stark moral absolutes.

The Christian leaders repeatedly compared the fight for legalization of illegal aliens to the battles against slavery and segregation and pledged to convert and mobilize their members in the pews to force a vote on "comprehensive immigration reform."


Arizona has become this generation's Selma.

-- Jim Wallis, head of the evangelical Sojourners movement

Wallis was referring to the brutal attempts of police and government in Selma, Alabama in the 1960s to stop civil rights marchers from trying to end racial segregation.

This has become a common theme as top leaders of the Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Jews, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Catholics, Presbyterians and the broad independent evangelical community have locked arms in a march for massive increases in immigration and foreign labor importation into the United States.

To Wallis and many others, the overwhelming majority of Christians who, polls show, support Arizona's recent law cracking down on immigration are the equivalent of the minority of Americans who supported racist, cruel laws that denied Black Americans many of their most basic rights as U.S. citizens. To these Christian leaders, a foreign national who breaks our immigration laws immediately becomes a victim of an oppressive U.S. system and is entitled to all the rights and privileges of a native-born citizen or naturalized immigrant.

Rev. Sam Rodriguez, head of the nation's largest coalition of Hispanic clergy, compared himself and the other pro-amnesty religious leaders to two of recent history's great Christian champions against inhumanity:

We are committed to oppose xenophobia and nativism (as we speak) in the voice of Martin Luther King and William Wilberforce.

-- Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Wilberforce was the great evangelical and member of British Parliament who spent his career eventually ending the British slave trade.


Catholic and liberal Protestant leaders have become almost giddy about the fact that they are now joined by top leaders of the nation's powerful and growing evangelical community and of the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Just last week, eight of them met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and with White House staff calling on them to not give up on "comprehensive immigration reform" but to bring the amnesty to a vote this year.

The Rev. Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists' national public policy commission, described his vision of a moral outcome by insisting that borders first be totally secured and then:

We move forward with a period of grace, where people can come forward and register and begin a pathway . . . (to) earned, legal status."

-- Rev. Richard Land, national Southern Baptist leader, quoted by Baptist Press

Rev. Land is vehement that it is not an amnesty to give permanent legal residency and permanent work permits to foreigners who broke immigration laws to illegally reside in this country and to illegally hold a job. Asked if illegal aliens have committed a crime, he responded:

Most of the people in my constituency (Southern Baptists) would say, 'Yes, they've broken the law, and there need to be penalties for that.' The question is: What are the panalties? And we would argue that there needs to be an earned pathway to legal status that would include paying a fine, agreeing to come forward and register and undergo a background check, and to start taking English classes."

-- Rev. Richard Land, national Southern Baptist leader, quoted by Baptist Press

To Rev. Rodriguez, making illegal aliens go home would be cruel and unusual punishment. The punishment for breaking immigration laws should be a fine:

Mass deportations are not the answer. The punishment should fit the crime.

-- Rev. Rodriguez, national evangelical Hispanic leader

Remember the late Jerry Falwell of Liberty University? Remember how he was often considered a leader of the most right-wing part of the Christian community? Well, Matthew Staver from Liberty University's Law School was one of the leaders imploring Nancy Pelosi to bring the amnesty up for a vote this year.

What does Staver think about making immigration lawbreakers go home?

Not only is it not practical, it's not moral. And I don't believe that's biblical either."

-- Matthew Staver of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, quoted by Baptist Press


Perhaps never in U.S. history has the leadership of nearly all faith groups united behind a single major social change -- until the current near unanimity in favor of comprehensive immigration reform (amnesty for illegal aliens and increases in future foreign labor), speakers at Brookings indicated.

And I can't think of another case like this myself.

Here's what Brookings had to say about it:

Religious leaders have demonstrated a remarkable degree of unity across theological, denominational, and ideological lines for comprehensive immigration reform.

Religious groups have organized marches, prayer vigils and postcard campaigns to pressure the U.S. Congress to take up immigration reform.

Largely because of the activism of these religious groups, immigration has remained on a legislative agenda crowded with other pressing domestic concerns.

-- Brookings Institute

Despite the general attitude of politicians in Congress and the White House that passing an amnesty is not possible this election year, the religious leaders pledged to do all they can to break the stalemate and force a vote.

If anybody can do this, it will be a bi-partisan effort by the faith community.

-- Rev. Wallis


Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the nation's Episcopal Churches, was challenged about how religious leaders' opposition to the nation's immigration laws could appeal to their constituents who, polls show, are very much committed to concepts of rule of law,

The role of the prophetic tradition is to challenge laws and structures that appear to be unjust. . . . We are meant to see every human being as our neighbor.

-- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church

The implication seemed to be that neighbors don't let neighbors get punished for breaking immigration laws.

All the leaders insisted that they don't believe in open borders. But every form of enforcement that was mentioned was opposed by the Brookings religious leaders.

Even the greatly reduced enforcement level under the Obama Administration is unacceptable:

Yes, it is time for Christian disobedience (against the enforcement of immigration laws).

-- Rev. Wallis

What they mean by NOT open borders is that they would definitely stop people who arrived carrying a bomb. But if they arrived at the border with a letter from a U.S. employer promising a job, they should be let in, without limit apparently.

We are trying to replace illegal behavior with legal avenues. If you provide legal visas, the Border Patrol will go after criminal elements. . . . Part of the solution is to create a system where everybody is legal and on the same playing field.

-- Kevin Appleby, spokeman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

This religious idea basically is that foreigners who can get a job in the U.S. should be allowed to become an immigrant and eventually a citizen. This, by the way, is the idea of Steve Forbes, too. Globalize the U.S. labor market so that anybody in the world can come in to compete for a job with U.S. citizens -- that's the idea.

Appleby did say that the system should be set up so that U.S. citizens get first crack at a job. But I've never heard a pro-amnesty religious leader ever describe how that would happen.

The problem, agreed Bishop Schori, is that we just don't provide enough green cards to foreign workers:

We encourage people to come here from an economic perspective but we don't provide them the means to come legally.

-- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church


One thing that was pretty apparent to me today is that the religious leaders are far more radical than almost any of the Democrats in Congress in their opposition to real enforcement and to any real limits on immigration.

The religious leaders gave a sort of comic book description of the Arizona law.

The Presiding Episcopal Bishop indicated that some of her underling bishops will be fearful of being threatened by Arizona police:

Our bishops will meet in September in Arizona. It has been planned a few years. We will express solidarity with the Latino community. A number of our bishops are temporary sojourners themselves. Members of our group will be at some hazard at having to present identification themselves while there.

-- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church

Rev. Wallis repeated as truth the rumor that the Arizona law will make criminals out of church workers who provide food, clothing and other material help to illegal aliens.


The Brookings speakers were challenged a little about just how much influence the religious leaders have when polls show such largescale support of the their membership for the Arizona law.

We do need to do a better job reaching those middle classes who aren't sure and need an answer to their question, 'What part of illegal don't you understand.'

-- Kevin Appleby, spokesman of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

The reality is when people are threatened they do ugly things and that is what is happening in Arizona.

-- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church

A similar question is how could Christians in this nation have supported slavery and segregation so long?

There is a disconnect between pulpit and pew. The majority of faith leaders support comprehensive immigration reform. But the pew is still disconnected. Pews still listen to cable news. We have some work to do.

-- Rev. Sam Rodriguez, Board of Directors, National Association of Evangelicals

In the end, national religious leaders from every part of the theological spectrum have paraded through Washington in the last few weeks both claiming that they speak for the majority of their faith groups' members and also that too many of their members are part of the evil thread in America that protected slavery, that protected segregation and that now protects enforcement of immigration laws.

Not a word from the religious leaders today about the 25 million Americans who want a full-time job and can't find one. You would never know listening to the national religious leaders that anybody other than illegal aliens are "the least of these" that Jesus admonished his followers to care for. You would never know that there is a giant Black and Hispanic American underclass that competes directly for jobs and services with the illegal population.


My sense listening to the leaders today is that they are cornucopians -- Christian utopians who can't be bothered with any concept of limits, of rationing or of the need to prioritize anything. Their idea is that one can show mercy to millions of illegal aliens and not commit injustice against millions of America's most vulnerable and poor.

For all their bravura about forcing an amnesty vote in Congress, they sound disappointed that more of their members aren't following them. A Ford Foundation-supported poll found that only one out of four Christians has heard immigration preached from the pulpit.

It sounds like the pro-amnesty champions hope to persuade a lot more preachers to do their job and convince the people in the pews that they'd better start pushing amnesty or risk being lumped in with segregationists and slave owners.

ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA (and lifelong churchgoer)

religious leaders

Updated: Mon, May 15th 2017 @ 4:29pm EDT

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