|WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist leaders have joined in the strongest effort to date by evangelical Christians to bring about comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.
Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and Richard Land, head of the SBC's ethics entity, were among more than 20 Southern Baptist denominational leaders, academics and pastors who endorsed an "Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform." The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a new coalition, released the statement signed by 150 evangelicals at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday (June 12).
In the statement, the signers call for government leaders to work with the American people for a "bipartisan solution" on the controversial issue that:
-- "Respects the God-given dignity of every person;
-- "Protects the unity of the immediate family;
-- "Respects the rule of law;
-- "Guarantees secure national borders;
-- "Ensures fairness to taxpayers;
-- "Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents."
The signers acknowledge efforts to repair what many of them describe as a broken system that has resulted in polarization and a misrepresentation of "each other's positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost."
While Land and other leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table have been promoting comprehensive reform for several years, the statement marks a significant expansion of evangelical endorsers in a cooperative effort. Notably, Focus on the Family took a stance on the issue for the first time when its president, Jim Daly, signed the statement. The coalition includes evangelicals from both the left and right.
The EIT "is diverse in its formation, but it is unified in its biblically mandated vision to help create a better life for immigrants" based on its stated principles, Land said at the news conference. Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Sojourners President Jim Wallis, known for his left-leaning politics, pointed to the agreement between his organization and more conservative groups such as the SBC, Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
"That doesn't happen very often," Wallis told reporters. "An effort for immigration reform of this size and this diverse has never been attempted in the evangelical community."
It appears there will be no attempt to move immigration reform in Congress this year. The political will does not seem to exist at either the White House or Capitol to pursue action on such a controversial issue before the November election. Yet, EIT members said it is time to promote reform.
"There may not be a vote on immigration reform in the Congress before November, but there are going to be a lot of votes in November," NAE President Leith Anderson said at the news conference.
The positions of incumbents and challengers on immigration reform could impact the election, Land pointed out. He cited a Pew Forum survey that showed 70 percent of Americans said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs comprehensive reform.
"That tells me that it's time for the politicians to understand that the country has changed on this issue, and they believe it's well past time for the government to get its act together and to pass immigration reform that is in line with these principles," Land said. "And we as evangelicals are here to say to both parties, 'Get with it.'
"We are absolutely convinced that the country is ahead of its elected leaders on this issue -- in both parties," he said. Continued...