- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

“Jesus was a refugee,” said Leith Anderson, director of the National Association of Evangelicals, who, along with other evangelical leaders, advocated a pro-immigration stance at an Oct. 8 Capitol Hill press conference. They issued a resolution formulated from a faith-based perspective.

Mr. Anderson also presented the organization’s support of comprehensive immigration reform later that day at a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and citizenship.

U.S. immigration policies are antiquated, laden with red tape and in need of a human rights approach to reform, the evangelicals said.

Their amnesty approach drew detractors.

“By the grace of God, each American benefits from membership in one of the most just, merciful and righteous bodies politic that has ever existed,” said James R. Edwards Jr., a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. “But just because the United States stands in the world as a beacon of liberty and justice doesn’t mean anybody who wants to come live in this nation can do so by their own will. Yet some 12 million or so people whose civic membership belongs to some other nation have forced themselves upon this nation.”

The evangelical group has taken positions contrary to some other Christian right views in recent years. For example, in 2007 it renounced torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees.” Other evangelical leaders have either resisted that view or remained silent on the issue.

The four-page resolution issued Thursday rests on biblical foundations and cites instances in the Old and New testaments in which refugees fled their lands because of hunger and war. The resolution describes God’s special grace shown to those individuals.

It goes on to cover many corners of the immigration issue, from advocating that borders be safeguarded with respect for human dignity to encouraging fair-labor and civil laws for legal immigrants.

The language of the document does not focus on pity for immigrants, but rather on equality in human rights, calling them “brothers and sisters.”

The recent evangelical involvement marks the growing interfaith voice in the immigration debate, which the Center for American Progress has called “a sweeping grass-roots movement.”

Organizations such as Catholic Social Services, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition have moved to the forefront of immigrant rights, rallying other denominations to join the effort.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition organized 167 prayer vigils in 133 cities in February to protect immigrants and raise awareness for comprehensive reform.

The editors of the Christian magazine Sojourners have created a six-week devotional guide, “Strangers in the Land,” for personal meditation on the connections between immigration and religion.

The National Association of Evangelicals represents 40 denominations and millions of evangelicals nationwide. Supporters said its traditional position on policies that support family values is an important motivator for recent involvement. Many of the pastors at the Capitol Hill meeting spoke of personal encounters with immigrants’ stories in their local churches.

Mr. Anderson, president of the association, is also the pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., which donates 10 percent of its ministry fund to immigrant support services.

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