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(Photo Credit: Tucson Sentinel)

(Photo Credit: Tucson Sentinel)

by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)

Yesterday morning, Christians from many walks of life gathered to the Evangelical Immigration Table to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Prominent voices of many races, ages, and cultural backgrounds spoke and prayed at the Hill’s historic Lutheran Church of the Reformation. That parish is no stranger to political activism: it hosted meeting for Martin Luther King, Jr. and is now the home of the radical Methodists for Social Action (MFSA). While most of the sponsors and speakers obviously favored looser immigration restrictions, more seasoned voices offered concern for the rule of law, border security, and fair taxes.

“Wouldn’t it just be like God to use immigrants and immigration to bring us together?” inquired Bridgeway Community Church’s David Anderson. “When you are loving your neighbor, you’re doing a good thing,” he added, “But the love of God is strong enough to break all barriers of hate.” It was evident that participants had a high view of their cause. Noel Castellanos of the Christian Community Development Association prayed, “God, we are so glad that we can be a part of such an important moment in the nation and the church…We are so grateful that now your kingdom on earth is becoming as it is in heaven.”

Laurie Beshore, global missions pastor at Mariners Church, observed, “While the Bible does not give us national immigration policy, it provides principles to work from.” She quoted a verse about extending hospitality to sojourners and strangers (without further explanation), warning, “In the United States especially, we see hospitality as offering refreshments.” She thought the term was an all-encompassing way of life. The Templo Calvario’s Rev. Lee de Leon declared, “As a Hispanic in the nation, it’s a wonderful day…God’s working a miracle in the capital. People are crossing the aisle…, and evangelicals are coming together as never before.” “We are to love the stranger,” he urged, “This is only the beginning…The nations of the world are at our door.”

The retiring Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission leader Richard Land offered the most cogent policy arguments: he discussed Romans 13 and the ordained responsibilities of civil government. “We in America are fortunate that we have a highly developed sense of the rule of law,” he proclaimed, “I can count the number of countries with that on my hands.” “The government hasn’t been enforcing its laws on immigration for twenty years,” he complained. Land contended, “We’ve had two signs up at the border: ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Help Wanted.’” “[Illegal immigrants] have broken the law so they can work, unlike our own homegrown criminals, who break the law so that they don’t have to work,” he instructed. The ERLC president told audience members, “Government is a lagging indicator. It’s a caboose. The people are the locomotive…When the people change, the government changes after them.”

Another notable evangelical figure, Willow Creek Community Church’s Pastor Bill Hybels, also addressed the Immigration Table. He condemned the “never-ending nightmare” for undocumented aliens “of deportation” and “a never-ending limbo” of lacking citizenship. The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, informed the large crowd, “The time has come…because nothing changes without brave people demanding it.” After praising the social witness of German anti-Hitler pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he announced, “For if our action is not bathed in prayer, it is at rick in becoming unjust action. If we pray without righteous action, we are engaging in vain babbling….No one other than Jesus can give you power.” Salguero also lauded 19th century evangelist Charles Finney, who used to make altar calls for people to get saved and to sign up for the abolitionist movement.

All these presentations granted enthusiasm and gusto to the reform cause in a rather nonpartisan manner. Nevertheless, the legislation briefing by World Relief’s Jenny Yang was more telling. “As evangelicals, we want immigration reform now!” she exclaimed. On the other hand, she confessed, “We don’t know exactly what’s in the reform bill…We don’t need to know the details; you just have to tell your stories.” Showing political naiveté and Social Gospel overtones, she insisted “This really is a historic moment as we meet here today…Elevate the moral voice you bring to the debate.” During the question period, someone asked if the security at the Congressional office buildings check for ID. Evidently, there were several undocumented immigrants who were going to join the crowds as they lobbied on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, activism feels good to enthusiasts, especially when coupled with a sense of moral superiority in one’s advocacy. By quoting Bible verses and making immigration reform a uniting trope for evangelicalism, the Table makes reform an issue of faith rather than prudence (and thus capable of religious enthusiasm). By extension, dissenting church members are implicated as bad Christians. Moreover, loosened immigration reforms are amenable to much of the popular culture at large, unlike life and marriage issues. The unintended consequences of immigration legislation, however, may rain on the parade later on. Regardless, as the old Religious Left can tell you, it feels good to be liked by society for once.