Are evangelicals actually shifting on immigration?

Today’s immigration news becomes a little more real when you know people it will directly affect. Whether or not you personally agree with the decision, it will impact faith communities as much as the rest of the country.

In case you haven’t heard, the Obama administration announced today that the government will stop deporting young people who came to the U.S. as children of illegal immigrants, as long as they meet requirements.

It didn’t make the same kind of crashing waves earlier this week, but a bunch of evangelicals gathered together and agreed on a set of principles on immigration.

I’m going to partially disagree with Newsbusters here and suggest that the New York Times is not just running wishful-thinking stories. Evangelicals have, in fact, slowly but surely begun to speak out on immigration reform. Five years ago, we did not see the same kind of interest there is today.

That said, the print headline, “Christians On Right Urge Reform On Migrants” is a little misleading. Just as Terry mentioned earlier this week, the idea that everyone in the group could be considered “Christians on the Right” is sort of laughable. This paragraph is a little overreaching:

Some of the nation’s most influential evangelical groups urged a solution to illegal immigration on Tuesday that defies the harsh rhetoric of the Republican primary race, which continues to undermine Mitt Romney’s appeal to Hispanic voters.

I’m not sure the reporter could make such connections, since there was no mention of Romney in the statement. The other sentences Newsbusters highlighted seem at least somewhat true, at least from my reporting of how evangelical leaders feel. And yes, as Newsbusters points out, Richard Land appears in all three stories, but he’s also the policy face of the Southern Baptist Convention. While Land specifically might not represent a changing tide every few years, he is still notable, coming from largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

From today’s Daily Beast, you can also read a piece from David Sessions that has a lot of quotes that weren’t available from the press conference’s livestream.

Yes, the shift has been slowly coming for a lot of evangelical leaders, but the big name in the mix this time was Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly, since the organization founded by James Dobson has never really spoken out on the issue before. In the past, officials would say things like “We’re not experts, we deal with issues on the family.” Well, Daly said this week that immigration does impact the family. Am I going to shamelessly link to my own interview? Yep, here it is.

Daly said things like, “It just seems immoral that we don’t come up with a better system to fast-track immediate family members who have gone through the process properly” and. “Let’s get behind this, not play politics with it left or right and not fearmonger with it. These are people that need dignity.” My favorite part, though, was this:

As we looked at who joined the statement, we also noticed who isn’t on the list, people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council or maybe those from the American Family Association. Do you expect a coming discussion with these groups that are not on the list?

Do you want an on-the-record response? [Laughed] I don’t know. I haven’t really talked to those folks.

Remember, Dobson was a founder of Family Research Council.

Back to the gaggle of evangelical leaders: how the combined statement translates into policy, it unclear. So while it was fairly nice timing this week right behind Obama’s announcement today, you likely won’t see a Catholic-like stance on policy.

Either way, immigration has been a longstanding issue for churches and religious leaders, whether it’s the family issues, the church as safe haven issues, employment, changing demographics, etc. Hopefully as more immigration issues come up, the media will seek religious leader opinion.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Jerry

    One of the reasons this issue deserves attention is the very lack of known, hardened religious perspectives. In some issues, such as abortion, the sides are well known and the only question really is who is gaining ground and who is losing ground.

    In the issue of immigration, the religious perspective appears to be much more fluid or at least much less reported so it’s important to understand the theological underpinnings of statements by ministers and other religious leaders.

    This is especially true given the ideological rigidity of the Republican party and the possibility that political religious support on this issue will differ from religious support on issues such as abortion.


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