Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Evangelicals and Immigration Reform

When conservative Baptist colleges such as Cedarville University, the college that refused to allow evangelical activist Shane Clairborne to speak on its campus, starts hosting conferences on immigration reform and encouraging students to advocate on behalf of immigrants I think it is safe to say that evangelicals are starting to come around on this issue.

Amy Black, a professor of political science at evangelical Wheaton College, describes this expanding evangelical political agenda in an op-ed at the Christian Science Monitor.  Here is a taste:

Although most Americans associate theologically conservative Christians with cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage, the evangelical political agenda is broadening. Immigration reform is one issue that has steadily gained momentum.

What might account for this change?

For one, pastors and religious leaders are talking more about the issue as a religious concern. Many scriptural passages relate to immigration – including the famous 40-year wilderness journey of the children of Israel to the Promised Land. But most evangelical churches and organizations have only recently begun to underscore the biblical connection to immigration.

New pro-immigrant movements are seeking to educate and activate evangelical clergy and voters by emphasizing themes of love, justice, and welcome for the stranger that resound throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.

Another factor that explains increasing awareness of immigrant issues is simple math.

Much like the nation, evangelicalism is becoming more ethnically diverse. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 13 percent of Hispanic Americans describe themselves as evangelical Protestants. Immigrant churches are growing rapidly, and many denominations have created new structures and leadership posts designed to serve Hispanic congregants. Immigration – including illegal immigration – touches the lives of many in the pews, and church leaders want to help.

Also, greater numbers of Evangelicals are worshiping alongside documented and undocumented immigrants, getting to know them and listening to their stories.
Perhaps the strongest sign of Evangelicals' advocacy is the emergence of new organizations and coalitions focusing on the issue.

In October 2011, Cedarville University, a conservative Christian college in Ohio, hosted the "G92" immigration conference. Taking its name from the Hebrew word for immigrant, ger, which appears 92 times in the Hebrew Bible, the conference has spawned a new movement designed to mobilize Christian college students to advocate on behalf of all immigrants. Leaders are planning half a dozen events across the country in 2013.

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