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SHAPIRO: The evolution of evangelicals on immigration
A religious issue has developed political — and financial — implications
There seems to be some confusion in the media about the political leanings of so-called conservative evangelicals supporting immigration reform.
More than 180 evangelical organizations came together this year to form the Evangelical Immigration Table, a supposedly bipartisan coalition calling for reform that “establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”
Simply put, the organization is trying to persuade evangelicals that the Christian thing to do is support a path to legal status or citizenship for illegal aliens.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with that in itself, but the group’s conservative veil has won it credibility within the Christian community as well as undeserved recognition from the media as a bipartisan evangelical voice when, in fact, it leans to the left.
The Evangelical Immigration Table is led by the formerly conservative National Association of Evangelicals, a prominent Christian organization with membership of more than 45,000 congregations. What many people do not know, however, is that the association has drifted quietly toward the left for the past several years.
Conservative Protestants founded the National Association of Evangelicals in 1943, but in 2011, The Weekly Standard reported that the group was promoting nuclear disarmament. Last year, The American Spectator reported that the association received funding from pro-choice organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Democratic congressional members.
In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the association suggested that the evangelical community supports gun-control measures and it has made no secret about promoting initiatives to address climate change.
Again, there is nothing wrong with evangelicals supporting liberal ideas, but there is a problem in that the press seems to rely on the group as the voice of conservative evangelicalism.
The New York Times and even the more conservative Wall Street Journal have cited the National Association of Evangelicals when depicting the position of the national evangelical community, which is presumed to be predominantly conservative.
Some of the nation’s most significant evangelical leaders, such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — the largest Hispanic Christian organization in the United States — have personally endorsed the organization.
Mr. Land and Mr. Rodriguez are also members of the Evangelical Immigration Table, which shares its top leadership role with Sojourners, a rising left-wing Christian organization run by Jim Wallis, a personal spiritual adviser of President Obama.
The Evangelical Immigration Table recently acknowledged that it made a $250,000 payment toward a huge pro-immigration ad campaign with the Salem Radio News Network via the National Immigration Forum, a nonprofit funded by George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
These so-called bipartisan affiliations clearly do not lend credence to the conservative image of either Mr. Land or Mr. Rodriguez, but this surprising marriage of convenience between conservative and leftist evangelical leaders should not be so mystifying. It could be an act of self-preservation, considering that Hispanic membership can play a central role in church viability.
On April 12, Adelle M. Banks of Religion News Service reported: “Beyond the biblical focus, some evangelical leaders are addressing immigration reform for strategic purposes. A recent poll shows white evangelicals are less supportive (at 56 percent) than other religious groups allowing immigrants living illegally in the U.S. to become citizens. But leaders say there’s been a sea change in the last couple of years as they hear about members being detained and deported and the effects of those measures on their families.”
The Religion News Service quoted Bishop Ricardo McClin, who talked about an immigrant church in Jacksonville, Fla., that shut down after fearful worshippers stopped attending: “One Sunday there’s a service; we had 80, 100 people,” he recalled. “And the following Sunday there would be nobody.”
Despite what actually may be a fear of diminishing congregations — and contributions — Mr. Rodriguez is wrong to say that this not a political issue. The sovereignty of the United States of America always will be a political issue.
It also may be a financial issue. Evangelical leaders know that losing immigrant members means losing contributions, and the long-term impact of that could be devastating.
Mr. Rodriguez failed to practice what he preached and made immigration reform a political issue in a recent Fox News op-ed that admonished Republicans that they would lose Hispanic voter support if the party did not support reform.
Mr. Rodriguez may not be completely wrong, however, in contending that immigration is also a Christian issue. Christians who support immigration reform because they truly believe it is what their faith dictates are well within their right to feel that way. Their faith and their view should be respected. However, journalists who rely on the Evangelical Immigration Table or the National Association of Evangelicals to represent the voice of conservative evangelicals on the issue of immigration should be aware of the leftist political positions with which these organizations are now aligned.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist and former prosecutor in Washington, D.C.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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