Immigration Reform 2013: Evangelicals Organize For Immigration

ByWilliam Smith

A group of American evangelicals have begun applying the biblical instruction "love thy neighbor" in a transnational way. Led by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), conservative evangelical leaders (organized as the Evangelical Immigration Table) have bought time for 1,600 radio ads in four states advocating a moderate, biblical-based immigration policy. The initiative, which asks people to consider "What Would Jesus Do?" — regarding immigration policy — is understood by the Table as an educative campaigned aimed primarily at evangelicals.

What, precisely, might Jesus do to address our country's immigration situation? While it is always a complex, if not misguided attempt to determine what policies enjoy the favor of God, the teachings of Jesus can be more easily connected to some approaches over others. Specifically, the virtues of hospitality, generosity, compassion, and respect do not seem to be well embodied in fences, REAL-IDs, and deportations.

The Table mentions Matthew, Chapter 25's words "I was a stranger, and ye took me in" as evidence of the biblical call for treating outsiders with hospitality. David Fleming, the Senior Pastor of Houston's Champion Forest Baptist Church, elaborated, saying that the current immigration system is "ineffective and inefficient" and that immigrants "speak English, they work hard, they pay taxes ... they are great neighbors they are friends of ours… We live together, we work together, and we serve together. We are all in this together. We see the immigrant as a person created in the image of God." In terms of what policy prescriptions the effort supports, there aren't many details, although the Table recently decided to support some form of gradual citizenship.

Aside from the obvious desire among the evangelicals who support a more moderate immigration policy to see their views implemented, electoral concerns are closely connected to the effort. Graham himself admitted that there has been a shift in opinion regarding immigration policy within the Republican Party, and considering the broader climate of opinion on the issue, adopting a more moderate approach is smart strategy. Furthermore, it is no secret that the GOP has a demographic crisis; with Hispanics now being the largest minority, and with 13% of Hispanics claiming to be evangelicals, reaching out to both evangelicals and Hispanics will allow Republicans to retain some of their base while broadening it.

Any effort to change evangelical's minds will be most successful when those attempting change are evangelicals themselves (this holds true for any group), or at least Christian and socially conservative. With Lindsey Graham leading the charge, the ads' claims that "key policymakers' constituents in those states back a comprehensive rewrite," and the strong religious arguments for a more moderate approach, this initiative stands a decent chance of having a noticeable difference. Ultimately, it must if the Republican Party is committed to keeping evangelicals as a substantial segment of their base. The nation is becoming more diverse, less religious, and more liberal regarding immigration, and in the long run, the right needs to either change its’ views and/or appeal to new groups if it is to be socially and politically successful.