Newsweek Notes Evangelical Leaders Pushing for Immigration Amnesty

The mainstream media often have little use for religious folks, except, of course, when they sing from the same hymnal on an issue dear to liberals.

We've seen it before with how the media bash the Catholic Church as behind the times when compared to its American laity who are decidedly less conservative on sexual mores, abortion, and women or married persons in the priesthood. Yet when Catholic bishops come out against say the Arizona anti-immigration law, the media all but stand and cheer the bishops for trying to lead their flock in opposition.

The same is true of how the media treat evangelical Protestants. Witness this item from Newsweek's Arian Campo-Flores in a May 11 post at the magazine's The Gaggle blog:

Today came the news that the National Association of Evangelicals is launching a new campaign in support of comprehensive immigration reform. It'll debut with a full-page ad in Roll Call on Thursday that will argue for including a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally. Among the signatories are Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Mathew Staver of Liberty University School of Law, part of the institution founded by Jerry Falwell. According to CNN, the NAE will follow up by lobbying Republican leaders in Washington to negotiate with Democrats to pass a bill.

This is a notable development. When Congress last tackled immigration reform in 2007, the association wasn't on board. That contributed to the effort's demise, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which represents about 16 million Latino evangelicals. As he told me late that year, "If white evangelicals had supported immigration reform, that [bill] would have passed." He spent the next few years arguing passionately for his white brethren to join the cause. His and others' pleas, along with the fact that Hispanics are one of the fastest- growing segments of the evangelical community, eventually brought the NAE around. Last year the NAE passed a resolution making a biblical case for a humane overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.

The problem, however, is that there's a disconnect between evangelical leaders and the grassroots. According to a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, white evangelicals have deeper misgivings about immigration than either white mainline Protestants or white Catholics. Sixty-three percent of the evangelicals said immigrants threaten "traditional American customs and values," compared with 51 percent of the Protestants and 48 percent of the Catholics. Moreover, 64 percent of the evangelicals said immigrants "are a burden because they take our jobs, housing, and health care," compared with 52 percent of the Protestants and 56 percent of the Catholics.

You'll notice that Campo-Flores paints the evangelical rank-and-file that are "out of touch" with the leadership instead of vice versa. 

Of course, evangelical Protestantism is not hierarchical, and I'd wager that most evangelicals -- speaking as one myself -- have any  stake in the workings of the National Association of Evangelicals outside of perhaps being a member of a church within a denomination that is a member of the NAE. 

What's more, the NAE's primary purpose is not political, but focused on that Kingdom which is not of this world (emphasis mine):

The mission of the National Association of Evangelicals is to extend the kingdom of God through a fellowship of member denominations, churches, organizations and individuals, demonstrating the unity of the body of Christ by standing for biblical truth, speaking with a representative voice, and serving the evangelical community through united action, cooperative ministry and strategic planning.

And while the NAE's leaders may be taking action to push for a "path to citizenship" for illegals, the key document on the NAE's Web site about Christian engagement in politics -- "For the Health of a Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" -- is extremely vague about how it perceives the evangelical approach to immigration:

Restoring people to wholeness means that governmental social welfare must aim to provide opportunity and restore people to self-sufficiency. While basic standards of support must be put in place to provide for those who cannot care for their families and themselves, incentives and training in marketable skills must be part of any well-rounded program. We urge Christians who work in the political realm to shape wise laws pertaining to the creation of wealth, wages, education, taxation, immigration, health care, and social welfare that will protect those trapped in poverty and empower the poor to improve their circumstances.

The same document noted that "[e]very political judgment requires both a normative vision and factual analysis. The more carefully and precisely we Christians think about the complex details of both, the more clearly we will be able to explain our views to others and understand—and perhaps overcome—disagreements with others."

Evangelical Christians are not all going to be on the same page about what to do about illegal immigration, nor should they -- seeing as it's a political matter, not a doctrinal one --  but don't expect that to stop the media from cheering on those evangelicals who align more closer with the pro-amnesty crowd while looking down upon those who favor stricter enforcement of existing law.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters