At the Southern Baptist Convention's recent meeting in Phoenix, the members passed a resolution that supports a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants:
RESOLVED, That we ask our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.
A Christianity Today article highlighted the tensions within evangelicalism when it comes to this issue. Wiley Drake, one of the opponents to the "amnesty" portion of the resolution, said, “This is amnesty any way you phrase it. Restitution? They don't need restitution. They need to go to work. We win people to Jesus. We get them jobs and we take them back to their country."
The CT article noted a recent Pew Survey:
Both the amendment and the final SBC resolution reflect a conundrum facing evangelical churches. Along with other evangelical churches, the SBC has supported immigration reform even though many in their pews hold negative views of immigrants.
A February poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that white evangelicals are more likely to see immigrants as a burden than a strength. Pew found that evangelicals are twice as likely to see immigrants today as “a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care” than they are to say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.” These views were similar—but still more negative—than other religious groups.
I am thankful that leaders from a group like the SBC have decided to speak up about this issue, in the face of apparent opposition from their own congregations. This signals an exciting turn in the public discourse and opinion about justice for the undocumented population, as well as repairing the broken system.
Via Todd, I came across an article by Andrew Wencl, a member of the SBC who has ministered to undocumented immigrants. I don't agree with everything in Wencl's article. I don't find undocumented people to be the "sinners" that Wencl paints them to be, and I think that an emphasis on justice shouldn't be driven solely by the need to evangelize this population. However, I appreciate a contradiction that he points out in this debate, which applies to all Christians, not just the SBC:
Some complained that the SBC resolution was advocating for amnesty. But a path to legal status (which does not mean citizenship) does not constitute amnesty, especially when you include “restitutionary measures,” which could take any number of forms. Compassion does not constitute amnesty. Not applying the stiffest penalty allowed by law does not constitute amnesty. I think many people are just miffed that illegal immigrants could “get off light,” as though they have never experienced grace themselves. (emphasis added)
That last sentence hit the nail on the head. Christians place a lot of emphasis on Romans 5:6-8, that though filthy, unrighteous sinners, Christ still died for us. And haven't we as Christians been repeatedly told that we don't deserve the grace that has been extended to us, in our dark, rotting sin? Isn't this grace supposed to be radical and upside-down?
It's a shame, then, that American Christians can't muster up that same grace for such a marginalized and exploited community in our midst. We, who have experienced a radical forgiveness and who preach this forgiveness on a daily basis, have a hard time with "amnesty." Some may find a distinction between these types of grace: one has cosmic, theological significance, and the other is a nations' rightful set of laws. However, I find that those who make that distinction put their American citizenship before their kingdom citizenship. When your country's laws offend the grace that is at the very heart of the gospel, shouldn't you rethink them, rather than defend them?
Although a sad contradiction, the fact that the SBC has recognized the injustice of the situation is promising.