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Evangelicals Renew Public Push for Amnesty, but Will Their Parishioners Follow?


Earlier this week, an alliance of more than 100 leaders from the Evangelical community renewed their push for comprehensive immigration reform, including a mass amnesty for the nation's 11-18 million illegal aliens. The Evangelical Immigration Table, as they've called themselves since their formation in 2012, is urging Christians in the United States to consider immigration from a biblical perspective -- of course, they only want Christians to focus on their interpretation of a few biblical passages while ignoring many others.

On Monday, high-profile Evangelicals, including Dr. Richard Land from the Southern Baptist Convention and Leith Anderson from the National Association of Evangelicals, released a new video featuring the Heads of the Evangelical Immigration Table reciting Matthew 25:31-46, a passage commonly referred to by pro-amnesty advocates as "I Was A Stranger…" And they're asking Christians to take the "'I Was A Stranger' Challenge."

The "I Was a Stranger" passage says that those who help the hungry, the naked, the stranger, and the prisoner will receive eternal life, while those who ignore them will receive eternal damnation. The "Strangers" the Evangelicals refer to are obviously the nation's illegal-alien population, and they imply that if Christians oppose amnesty, they'll be doomed in the eyes of God.

But, Dr. James Edwards, a fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies, has a different interpretation. In a September 2009 backgrounder, he wrote in reference to the "Stranger" scripture, "[t]he judgment here is based on individual acts of kindness, as private persons. It becomes highly problematic to ascribe the specific mercy ministries this passage cites to bodies politic."

In other words, the passage applies to individuals, not to governments.

According to Edwards, "[s]cripture clearly indicates that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protecting citizens, and punishing wrongdoers." He highlights Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Not surprisingly, the Evangelical Immigration Table fails to include Romans 13, any balance between individual and governmental obligations, or a response to this or similar passages anywhere on its website.

The motive for amnesty from the Evangelical leaders is unknown, but what is known is how their opinion differs from their parishioners. One of the largest-scale polls ever conducted on immigration was done in the fall of 2009. The Zogby poll surveyed 42,026 adults and found that mainline Protestants support enforcement over a pathway to citizenship by a 64-to-24 margin. Born-again Protestants support enforcement over a pathway to citizenship by a 76-to-12 margin. And while the Evangelical Immigration Table solely focuses on the nation's illegal-alien population, 72% of mainline Protestants say legal immigration levels are too high, and 78% of Born-again Protestants say it's too high.

The Evangelical Immigration Table has also posted an open letter to Congress and the White House. In it, they call for a "path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents." The group is also preparing to increase its grassroots lobbying efforts in Washington, and Jim Wallis, who serves as the CEO of the theologically liberal Sojourners and one of the leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table, told CNN that they've already met with top White House officials and leaders of both parties.

While research from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that only 19% of Hispanics, who make up the majority of the illegal-alien population, identify themselves as protestant, Evangelical leaders believe the number will increase in the future. But whether it will be at the risk of losing their current followers remains to be seen.

CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA

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