Monday, July 19, 2010

The Gospel of Immigration Reform

My message to Republican leaders is if you’re anti-immigration reform, you’re anti-Latino, and if you’re anti-Latino, you are anti-Christian church in America, and you are anti-evangelical.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Today's New York Times had a front-page article on the current trend of prominent Evangelical leaders joining forces with (are you sitting down?) Democrats to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform: a path to citizenship that would allow illegal immigrants to register with the government, pay a fine, undergo a background check, prove they can speak English and only then get in line to apply for permanent legal residency. The NY Times article focuses on pragmatic reasons for Evangelicals to support immigration: the growing Latino population in the US and a socially conservative likemindedness with the Latino population (a lot of similiarity on the abortion and same-sex marriage issues). Here are 10 real reasons why Evangelicals should consider an immigration overhaul a vitally faithful political priority.

NOTE: Evangelicals are "officially" Christians who emphasize 4 key tenets of the faith: (1) the salvific meaning of the death of Christ; (2) the need for each individual to have a conversion experience; (3) the call to "preach the gospel" (in word and deed); and (4) the authority of the Bible as God's Word. Evangelicals are usually easy to identify by these markings, as well as their tendency to refer to themselves as "just Christian" or "non-denominational Christian." Of course, Evangelical Christians have overwhelmingly voted Republican in the past 30 years.

1. Because God demanded that Israel care for the "resident alien" in the Promised Land (Leviticus 19)
2. Because being "like Jesus" is advocating for the welfare and dignity of the marginalized and overlooked (throughout the Gospels)
3. Because the hard work, industriousness and family values of immigrant families is an important model for our children.
4. Because undocumented workers do jobs that Americans simply will not do for $7.50 an hour.
5. Because Jesus was an immigrant when his family fled Palestine in his youth (Matthew 2).
6. Because all Christ-followers are called to do what it takes to care for the needs of "the least of these"...and undocumented workers definitely qualify as "the least of these" (Matthew 25).
7. Because "amnesty" will keep families together.
8. Because "amnesty" will result in a net positive benefit to American households.
9. Because American & Mexican economic policies have largely led to the desperate move north for these immigrants.
10. Because Christians pledge allegiance to the "kingdom of God" before allegiance to nation, party or race.
*11. (a bonus): And because Jesus is the "Good Coyote" who brings us into God's Reign against the law at no charge and at baptism, we proclaim that we are all equally "wetback" strangers and aliens to this world.

*This last one comes courtesy of Bob Ekblad's wonderful book Reading The Bible With The Damned (2005).

-Theological Autopilot


  1. I agree with this mostly. The greater question here, and I would love to hear your point of view, is looking beyond the static (what do we do with the people here now) and think more dynamically, what should the evangelical think about our border strategy in the future? Should our borders be closed? Should they be open? If they are closed, how should we reform legal immigration? Should we have quasi border security and offer amnesty every 20 or so years?

  2. Dr. James, as always, I love your questions--critical and passionate! First of all, I believe that we Christians should advocate for more humanizing economic and social policies that do not cast immigrants as "criminals." Second, I believe we should advocate for quotas that match the needs of the business community (ie, farms/agribusinesses, restaurants, etc). Third, I we should advocate for family reunification, bringing nuclear families, split by the border, back together. And fourth, we should point out ways that current American economic policy exactly creates a situation where farmers South of our border lose their land because they cannot compete with the American bohemeth agrifarms. I sincerely (and perhaps naively) believe that if Christians shifted their focus away from enforcement/criminalization/deportation and towards these 4 focal points, we would be working for that "whole new world" (II Cor 5:17) that was inaugurated in Jesus.

    On the border question, this may sound irresponsible or impractical, but I don't feel the need to answer the open/closed question because it isn't a "live question." It will never be an open border. With that said, we can put time/resources into blocking inhumane border tactics. As a Christian, I believe it to be my vocation to humanize my Latino brothers and sisters who have been greatly marginalized by American policies and attitudes. Building high walls and using drones to "keep them out" dehumanizes them. So does the building of extra, unnecessary fences in places like Friendship Park on the US-Mexico border where families that have been split apart can see each other face to face.

  3. Here's the other side of the coin...!/note.php?note_id=435871798728