Today in Washington, D.C., several of the nation's most prominent evangelical Christian leaders will join together to announce a statement of principles that they hope will spur Congress and the president to finally pursue comprehensive reforms to our nation's dysfunctional immigration legal system. The statement, signed by more than 125 top-level evangelical leaders, laments the "unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level" in discussions around immigration reform and the resulting "moral, economic and political crisis." While leaving the specifics of legislation to those individuals from both parties who are elected to draft our nation's laws, the statement insists that certain principles consistent with biblical values guide that process, including:
• Respecting the God-given dignity of each person,
• Protecting the unity of the immediate family,
• Respecting the rule of law,
• Guaranteeing secure national borders,
• Ensuring fairness to taxpayers, and
• Establishing a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who
wish to become permanent residents
While some evangelical leaders have been speaking out on the need for immigration reform for several years, this statement is notable for the breadth and diversity of those joining the call. The signatory list reads as a who's who of American evangelicalism, including many who have never commented publicly on immigration policy. Signatories include bestselling Christian authors, denominational executives from almost every major evangelical denomination, presidents of Christian colleges and seminaries, and pastors of large and influential churches throughout the country. Though denominationally, politically, and ethnically diverse, evangelicals are joining together with unprecedented unity to challenge legislators to take action to fix our broken immigration system -- and to encourage all evangelicals "in the pews" to join them.
There are a few key reasons that this shift toward concern for immigrants -- and, as a result, for immigration policy -- is occurring. First of all, caring for immigrants is a biblical mandate, and evangelicals cannot dismiss scripture. "Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself," God tells his people (Leviticus 19:34). God repeatedly references immigrants along with widows and orphans as uniquely vulnerable groups for whom he takes a special concern--and whom he commands his people to love (Psalm 146:9, Malachi 3:5, Jeremiah 7:6, amongst many others). Jesus calls his followers to hospitality -- literally, to love strangers -- suggesting that by doing so, we may actually be welcoming him, and that by failing to do so, we may be shunning him, and should fear judgment (Matthew 25:31-45). Scripture also guides Christians to respect the rule of law (Romans 13:1), which is part of why so many Christian leaders believe that the status quo -- where the law has been selectively ignored for decades by both immigrants and by employers because our legal immigration system is so wildly out of synch with the needs of our labor market -- is unacceptable.
Another reason that so many evangelical leaders are speaking out is that immigration is having a dramatic impact on evangelical churches throughout the United States. In fact, studies have found that immigration accounts for the fastest -- and, in some cases, the only -- growth in American evangelicalism today, as immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa join evangelical churches in unprecedented numbers. Evangelical leaders, who are excited to see more and more people find the hope and transformation that we believe is possible only through Jesus, thus see immigration as an opportunity, not as a threat. As more and more undocumented immigrants become part of evangelical churches, though, they have also entangled the church as a whole in the morass of U.S. immigration law. If we are to take seriously the biblical teaching that we are all members of a single body and that if one part suffers, all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), then the Church must be unified in speaking out for the many amongst us who are living in the shadows, unable to get right with the law without legislative change.
While pundits rightly focus on how various candidates' positions on immigration will affect their ability to attract Latino voters, those aspiring to elected office should note that a vote for the status quo on immigration policy will also alienate evangelical voters of every ethnicity. Evangelical leaders believe that immigration is a biblical issue of justice that is impacting the church, and that the time for immigration reform is now.
Co-authored with Matthew Soerens.
Don Golden and Matthew Soerens are respectively the Vice President for Church Engagement and the U.S. Church Training Specialist with Baltimore-based Christian aid agency World Relief. World Relief, which is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, empowers local churches to serve refugees, victims of human trafficking, and other immigrants in locations throughout the United States, as well as serving the vulnerable in other parts of the world. Don is the co-author of Jesus Wants to Save Christians and Matthew is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate and the co-creator of UnDocumented.tv.