Early in October, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) board endorsed a policy statement for liberalized U.S. immigration laws [www.nae.net/resolutions/347-immigration-2009]. Specifically, it urges:
* That immigrants be treated with respect and mercy by churches. Exemplary treatment of immigrants by Christians can serve as the moral basis to call for government attitudes and legislation to reflect the same virtues.
* That the government develop structures and mechanisms that safeguard and monitor the national borders with efficiency and respect for human dignity.
* That the government establish more functional legal mechanisms for the annual entry of a reasonable number of immigrant workers and families.
* That the government recognize the central importance of the family in society by reconsidering the number and categories of visas available for family reunification, by dedicating more resources to reducing the backlog of cases in process, and by reevaluating the impact of deportation on families.
* That the government establish a sound, equitable process toward earned legal status for currently undocumented immigrants, who desire to embrace the responsibilities and privileges that accompany citizenship.
* That the government legislate fair labor and civil laws for all residing within the United States that reflect the best of this country’s heritage.
* That immigration enforcement be conducted in ways that recognize the importance of due process of law, the sanctity of the human person, and the incomparable value of family.
On the surface, it almost seems a reasonable set of guidelines for immigration policy, yet the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) wonders aloud if “the NAE,” founded as an evangelical alternative to the leftwing National Council of Churches but now its political twin. Of NAE's 40 member – plus denominations, only 11 have endorsed its immigration resolutions.
Therefore, is NAE “really speaking for the 20 million evangelicals it claims to represent? …. The NAE, increasingly part of the Evangelical Left, seems to want to follow the NCC in no longer striving to speak for church members but instead speaking to church members, and adopting political stances that aim for secular publicity. Some call this prophetic. But we would call it irresponsible and ultimately ruinous to the NAE’s ability accurately to represent evangelicals. There is no clear Christian stance on correct immigration law. But NAE is adopting the sad trajectory of the National Council of Churches, speaking to detailed political issues beyond its traditional moral purview and the consensus of its constituency. The NAE resolution acknowledges that ‘the Bible does not offer a blueprint for modern legislation,’ but then it offers a blueprint.” [Mark Tooley, “Churches Lobbying for Liberalized Immigration?” IRD Weekly, 10-15-09]
Accepting that criticism – that the NAE is taking a more liberal position than the majority of its members (and this is not an insignificant complaint, as the document is used as fodder for articles such as appeared in the U.S. News and World Report under the misleading headline “Social Conservatives, Democrats Find Common Ground on Immigration.” Oh, really?) – one still would like to understand what about the guidelines might trouble its membership. IRD’s Vice President for Research, Alan Wisdom, has a number of concerns.
Among them is that the statement fails to “distinguish the moral obligations of churches and governments. Of course, the church needs to welcome all with the mercy of Christ. But government has to operate on the basis of justice, tempered with mercy and prudence as the occasion may require.” In other words, while it is morally necessary that individuals and church groups assist needy undocumented immigrants, the duties of the State are ordered to protecting its citizens – and that may include regulating who may cross its borders. That’s an important distinction.
Wisdom also points out that “[t]he statement does not distinguish refugees from other immigrants. International law and U.S. law have recognized that refugees from persecution have priority for entering the country. Surely, the NAE, with its longtime refugee ministry, ought to know this and affirm it strongly. But there’s not a word about refugees, of whom we still have millions around the world.” The point is that, as the United States is unable to accommodate every person who wants to live here, there must be some criteria for prioritizing need. People fleeing persecution move to the head of the line.
The NAE document also fails to address the “moral hazard” of scoff-law immigration. Wisdom contends “if we reward those who break the law with a fast track to legal status (giving them priority for those who wait overseas for long years to receive a visa), do we not encourage more people to enter the country illegally? Past experience suggests that the moral hazard is real."
Stephanie Block is the editor of the Los Pequenos newspaper and a founder of the Catholic Media Coalition.
[Alan Wisdom’s critique of the NAE Immigration resolution, with an introduction can be viewed here: http://www.theird.org/Page.aspx?pid26&frcrld=1]
Further discussion about evangelicals and immigration reform is available at the Institute on Religion and Democracy: www.theird.org/Page.aspx?pid"5
Audio Clip: “Evangelical Group Leans Left” (click on 'Hear Report' on right side of page)
American Family News Network: OneNewsNow.com (September 25, 2009) A Protestant renewal organization is blasting the National Association of Evangelicals for its liberal stance on illegal immigration. www.onenewsnow.com/Church/Default.aspx?ids0256