The Real Reason for Evangelical Interest in Immigration Reform
Today evangelical Christians flocked to Washington D.C. for an “Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform.” Believers from across the US, 15 from Colorado, gathered for worship, press conferences, and meetings with members of Congress. The event, well timed to overlap with the recent release of a proposed immigration overhaul, represents a growing groundswell of support for immigration reform among conservative evangelicals.
But what has caused this growing consensus among evangelicals? Was it the beating Republicans took at the polls last November from minorities, especially Hispanics? Or how about the growing number of heart-wrenching stories from the nations’ nearly 11 undocumented immigrants who are living in legal limbo? Or was it, as a recent TIME cover story pointed out, the growing realization that “they” (our immigrant neighbors) are increasingly “us” (evangelical Christians)? These are all central reasons. But the media has generally overlooked a central truth: The Bible is the real reason behind evangelical interest in immigration reform.
Colorado presents an interesting case study. In 2008, Dr. Daniel Carroll, a professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary, published Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. Tired of mere partisan bickering, he set out to re-frame the immigration debate by looking to Scripture. He unearthed ancient wisdom from Israel’s past. For example, God commands Israel, “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Carroll reminded the evangelical community that Abraham was an immigrant from Ur, Joseph became a refugee when his brothers sold him into slavery, Daniel lived as a “resident alien” among the Persians, and Jesus himself became an immigrant when Joseph and Mary fled Egypt to escape persecution.
Dr. Carroll’s theology was instrumental in forming the Evangelical Immigration Table, a national group of college presidents, mega-church pastors, and leaders of evangelical organizations calling for a bipartisan solution on immigration based on biblical principles. In January, the organization launched the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, calling for churches to read selected Bible passages related to immigrants for 40 days. To date, over 700 churches nationwide have participated. On April 24, Michelle Warren, a Colorado representative for the Evangelical Immigration Table, is organizing a night of prayer for immigration reform for seven churches in Colorado, located in each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts.
As interest in churches has grown, key evangelical leaders in Colorado have voiced their support for immigration reform. In a June 2012 Christianity Today interview, Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, publicly voiced his support of immigration reform. Colorado pastors like Nick Lilo of Waterstone Church, Tom Melton of Greenwood Community Church, and Mike Romberger of Mission Hills Church all have voiced support for immigration reform based on biblical convictions.
Even Christian high schools are joining the movement. On April 26-27, Front Range Christian School in Littleton will host the “G92 Conference,” a reference to the 92 occurrences of the Hebrew word ger – foreigner, sojourner, immigrant – in the Old Testament. Leading evangelical voices such as Dr. Carlos Campo, President of Regent University, and Stephan Bauman, CEO of World Relief, will speak on the conference’s theme: “Welcoming the Stranger: Exploring a Biblical View of Immigration.” Ironically, the conference will take place in the former congressional district of Tom Tancredo, a name synonymous with anti-immigrant fervor.
In the coming weeks, congress will debate visas, border security, and paths to citizenship. And as they do, evangelicals will add their noisy political voice because they believe God cares for immigrants. Although evangelicals aren’t the only ones interested in immigration reform (left and right, liberal and conservative have worked on reshaping the system), they may be key to winning the GOP dominated House of Representatives. But even if reform isn’t successful, it’s a breath of fresh air to see the Bible being used in politics as it was always intended: to defend the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant.