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Evangelical Group Endorses Liberalized Immigration, Testifies Before SenateJeff WaltonOctober 9, 2009
The president of the largest evangelical body in the United States testified in favor of liberalized immigration policies before a Senate subcommittee on Thursday, following an endorsement of immigration reform by the group’s governing board.
“Why is immigration policy important to evangelicals?” National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) President Leith Anderson asked the Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. “Certainly because we believe what the Bible teaches about treatment of ‘aliens in the land.’ It is also because so many Hispanic, African and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us.”
Anderson, who pastors the large Wooddale Church in suburban Minneapolis, reported to the committee that the NAE board had earlier that day unanimously endorsed a call for immigration reform. The NAE represents evangelical denominations such as the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Assemblies of God. The United States’ largest protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is not an NAE member.
Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Schumer eagerly embraced the NAE resolution.
“Evangelicals’ community support for immigration reform is a moral imperative for all people of faith,” said the U.S. Senator from New York.
The NAE immigration resolution calls upon the government to develop structures and mechanisms that “safeguard and monitor the national borders with efficiency and respect for human dignity” but does not comment on enforcement once migrants have crossed those borders. It also calls for the annual entry of “a reasonable number of immigrant workers and families” as well as “reevaluating the impact of deportation on families.” The document also urges a “process toward earned legal status for currently undocumented immigrants.”
Anderson was not the only prominent evangelical to be featured at the hearing. In addition to testimony provided by Pastor James Tolle of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, former Bush Administration speechwriter Michael Gerson and Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick testified in favor of liberalized immigration.
In his opening comments, Schumer read prepared statements from other prominent evangelical leaders, quoting Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter as saying that evangelical support for immigration changes was a moral imperative.
“The urgency for immigration reform cannot be overstated because it is so overdue,” Schumer quoted Hunter saw saying. The subcommittee chairman also read a statement provided by Bill and Lynn Hybels of the Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago.
“Bill and I are committed to immigration reform and hope that it will pass Congress soon,” the Hybels’ letter read. “We believe that most Americans would be moved to pass comprehensive immigration reform if they could see the faces of immigration as we have seen them.”
Anderson, who spoke on behalf of the NAE network of 40 denominations comprising more than 45,000 local churches, said that in some NAE denominations more than half of the congregations had substantial numbers of immigrant members.
“Our churches are open to all who seek God’s grace and mercy, regardless of their immigration status,” Anderson said. “Does this mean that evangelicals do not recognize the right and responsibility of nations to regulate their borders? Far from it. Evangelicals believe that government is a gift of God for the common good. Borders are necessary for public order. We support intelligent enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws as long as the enforcement measures are consistent with respect for human dignity, family values and the sanctity of human life.”
The Minnesota pastor said that immigration policies must prioritize “the incomparable value of family.”
“The current backlog in family reunification petitions, with waiting periods stretching into years and even decades, is shortsighted, and immoral,” Anderson said. “It causes much suffering, and tempts desperate people to work around our laws, where our system offers no realistic possibilities for timely family reunion.”
Anderson told the subcommittee that evangelicals were ready to assist in helping to integrate immigrants. He also said that Americans who feared additional competition for jobs deserved special attention and assistance, alongside local communities disproportionately impacted by national policies.
“Comprehensive immigration reform is the right moral decision,” Tolle said, concluding the panelists’ opening remarks. “Our country has assimilated millions upon millions of immigrants over the centuries. We are a nation of immigrants. Why should we stop now?”
Sen. Schumer asked if any of the panelists thought that there were some religious leaders who did not speak out in favor of immigration reform to their congregants for fear of reprisal from the congregation or fear of disfavor.
“There’s a disconnect between the pulpit and the pews, particularly in non-ethnic congregations,” responded Rodriguez. “That’s why today’s resolution by the National Association of Evangelicals is historic; this is no longer a Latino thing or a Hispanic church issue, now it’s the collective evangelical community saying ‘we’re in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.’”
Anderson agreed, saying that there were people that disagreed, but that he did not know what the numbers were. He said there were pastors that would be reluctant to speak about immigration, avoiding the politicization of the issue.
None of the panelists spoke to the consequences of granting an amnesty to immigrants who entered the country illegally.
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