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G92 Summit Touts Looser Immigration PoliciesBarton GingerichOctober 25, 2011
Evangelicals gathered to advocate liberalized immigration policies at an October 20-22 event called G92: Equipping the Next Generation for an Effective Biblical Response to Immigration at Cedarville University, and sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals, among other evangelical groups. Speakers cited immigrant rights as a civil rights issue.
The gathering attracted students from Cedarville’s Ohio campus, plus many others from evangelical campuses like Regent and Bethel. Speakers made biblical, constitutional, and economic arguments for policies that would legalize currently illegal immigrants.
According to the event, G92 refers to the “92 times that the Hebrew word ger occurs in scripture. This word is translated as stranger, sojourner, or alien. It refers to people who have come from another land and scripture says a lot about God’s love for them, and about how we as God’s people are to treat them.”
Cedarville Vice President for Student Life Carl Ruby declared: “No one can say God doesn’t care about immigrants…This is the civil rights issue of our time.” Regent University president Carlos Campo critiqued dehumanizing treatment of immigrants. The son of a Cuban immigrant, Campo shared how men may refuse to see any more than race, but God “knows us for who we are, in our ethnicity and out of our ethnicity.”
“Ordinary radical” Shane Claiborne, a popular pacifist activist, preached about reaching out to alienated (undocumented) immigrants. “We are so good with attracting certain people,” he chimed, “We’ve come to be known for what we’re against and not what we’re for.” He exclaimed, “Through Christ, we have…the power to tear down walls…We have a God all about grace and all about hospitality.” Claiborne added humorously, “When you think about it, we are all illegal immigrants into the Kingdom of God.” He ended with a sobering thought: “Our Bible does not say ‘God so loved America,’ but ‘God so loved the world.’”
Liberal activist Jim Wallis of Sojourners declared: “Our religion is unique in the Incarnation; in Jesus Christ, God hits the street.” He challenged his young audience, “You have a job to do: you need to clean up the confusion of what we mean by the Christian faith.” Wallis believed that undocumented workers “are without a doubt in the Biblical category of ‘stranger.’” He said he “cringed” when he heard the “tough talk” of Republican presidential-hopefuls against illegal immigrants to “energize their conservative evangelical base.” And he further accused the U.S. of having a contradictory message: “No Trespassing/Help Wanted.”
Wallis quoted from Deuteronomy to instruct Christians to “treat the stranger like a citizen” without any further commentary. “We see the face of Jesus in those 12 million people,” he said of illegals, “So you better treat them well.” He also instructed, “You know when the law is hurting people, you break it.” Later, he admitted, “I believe in the rule of law, but enforcing it with a broken system is cruel.” Wallis firmly believed nothing could be done through the federal government: “I live in Washington, and they cannot solve this. They’re playing games with lives…They don’t govern. They run to win or lose.”
Southern Baptist leader Richard Land offered a more conservative perspective. The President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission urged a “just and fair immigration policy,” an overhaul that was “long past due in 1999.” Since 40% of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Hispanic members are undocumented, the immigration issue came quickly before the commission, which deemed the current system “sub-Biblical.” He provided an overview of the Southern Baptist Convention’s resulting Resolution on Immigration and the Gospel.
Land pointed out that the federal government actually profits from illegal aliens paying many taxes but rarely collecting the benefits. He claimed, “Deportation is a mirage—it would be cruel, it would be wrong.” Land continued: “Amnesty…is disrespectful of the rule of law…a very fragile and precious thing…It takes centuries to build but can be destroyed in a very short time.” Land added, “It is also immoral to ignore the law then try to enforce it retroactively.” And he said: “We are unique. We are a creedal nation. We make decisions democratically and non-violently…And if you don’t want to, then you cannot come.” As a solution, Land proposed an intricate top-down plan of national identification cards with thumbprints.
Director of Hispanic Ministries for the Evangelical Free Church Alejandro Mandes commented: “I do believe we need to find room for outsiders in our church.” He cited the Gospel’s woman at the well and the Book of Philemon. And he critiqued “our consumer church mentality [where] all we need to do is fine tune our programs…for a dying population.” Mandes warned: “We’ll lose our soul all over again if we don’t base our justice and compassion on the Bible…We are not called to make a new program…We need to make disciples.” He cited a 30% conversion rate with Mexican immigrants contrasting with 4% from missionaries in Mexico. Looking at Romans 13, he argued, “The undocumented are breaking the law. We are not required to ‘turn them in.’” He concluded, “We need them as much as they need us.”
Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal condemned “overreaching policy decisions” of mass deportation and airtight borders. Riley called instead for “letting the free market determine how much foreign labor we need in this society’s economy.” He complained of the “inefficient use of limited resources” in the border patrol going after workers rather than drug-dealers. States with large influxes of immigrants actually have economic booms (showing that foreigners did not actually harm the American economy), he said. Riley also noticed Latino immigrants “settle according to the availability of employment…They are looking for work, not handouts.” He added, “If we have a problem of illegal immigrants taking benefits, cut the benefits.”
Riley urged: “Turn off talk radio and open a history book,” which will show that immigrant groups start poor, assimilate, and prosper. The influx of foreigners is “not unprecedented in scale, just a new group.” In the 1750s, the Founders believed that the Germans would never assimilate to the English language and culture; in the late 1800s, Americans complained about southern Italians sending money back home or returning themselves. Riley quipped, “If Americans can assimilate the Irish, they can assimilate anybody.” As for the problem of multiculturalism, the WSJ editor advised, “Keep the immigrants; deport the Harvard faculty.” In the end, Riley modestly proposed expanding the supply of visas to meet the great demand coming from Latin America rather than rely on arbitrarily chosen quotas. Galen Carey, director of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, reiterated Riley’s points.
The G92 Conference acts as a watershed for Cedarville University, which had canceled the controversial Shane Claiborne in 2008 due to conservative complaints. At the conference, he joined with the even more controversial Jim Wallis on the chapel stage. Although the main sessions presented a wide assortment of speakers, they all presented one message: a loosened immigration policy. No one stood for a tightened border security; most speakers vilified the new Alabama state law, Arizona’s tightened measures, and Herman Cain’s half-joking comment on an electrified fence. Wallis tried to alarm the attendees by quoting United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon on the Alabama law: “They’re making Christian ministry illegal.” Wallis even argued, “This makes loving your neighbor illegal.” This was a somewhat disingenuous portrayal since the law targeted human traffickers. Nevertheless, it was the extreme of a decidedly one-sided gathering. Most of the other presentations were more moderate.
Ruby and others from Cedarville’s student life office noted their regret about evangelicalism’s absence from the 1960s civil rights movement. One older audience member ruefully recalled: “We were too busy preaching against long hair and rock n’ roll.”
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