WASHINGTON (BP) -- Widespread agreement on immigration reform exists among Americans in spite of differences on how to achieve it, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission gave a hopeful assessment to reporters Wednesday (July 24) as evangelical Christians gathered to pray and persuade members of the House of Representatives to reform a flawed system that has resulted in an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
The future of immigration reform remains uncertain in the House, where Republican leaders have said they will work on their own legislation and not take up a bill approved by the Senate in late June. Some conservative Republicans have sharply criticized the Senate measure, especially its approach to border security.
Moore described the consensus as remarkable "not only among people who agree with us on immigration reform."
"Most of us in this country agree the system is broken," he said. "Most of us in this country agree we have to have some way of addressing the 11 or so million people who are living in invisibility right now.
"I also think that many of the people who would be reluctant right now are reluctant because of genuine concerns that we share. They want to make sure that the process is done right, so it doesn't have to be done again in the future. We think that can be done," Moore told reporters.
"They want to make sure there's accountability for people who have come here illegally, that they are held accountable to the full responsibilities of citizenship. We share that concern, and we think there's a way forward there," he said. "And they also want to be sure that we have borders that are secure and a rule of law that is upheld. We share that concern as well, and we also think there's a way forward there."
Moore described the differences over immigration reform as "not a clash of world views as much as it is a question of prudentially how do we get forward with some common goals that the country seems to be coalescing around" currently.
The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a coalition of evangelical leaders that supports broad immigration reform and includes Moore, sponsored the news conference, a worship service and visits to congressional members by more than 300 evangelicals. The EIT also sponsored a similar day of activities on Capitol Hill in April.
At the news conference, speakers pointed to growing evangelical support for immigration reform, citing the more than 180 leaders who have signed EIT's principles for reform and the more than 10,000 "grass-roots signatories" to the document.
The evangelical leaders reaffirmed they have not endorsed the Senate-approved bill or any other legislation, just the EIT principles. They also said they have not supported any particular policy process.
Evangelicals reiterated to reporters they do not support amnesty.
"We're talking about accountability," Wendell Griffen said at the news conference. Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. "If you pay a fine, pay taxes, pass a background check, study English and pledge allegiance to our country, that's accountability. That's not amnesty."
Moore and fellow Southern Baptist David Crosby both pointed to the Gospel as the reason for their support of immigration reform.
"As evangelical Christians, we are defined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Gospel that is in scripture a Gospel of both justice and mercy, of righteousness and compassion," Moore told reporters. "And we're here today not as a political pressure group or a political action committee. We're here as a group of believers in Jesus Christ who want to let our elected officials know that we are praying for them, we're praying for wisdom, we're praying for discernment, and we're praying for justice and for compassion in a system that is broken."
Crosby, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, told Baptist Press after the news conference, "I am here because I am compelled by the Gospel to be here. I'm not compelled politically.... But I'm here compelled by the Gospel because I think this fits perfectly in the story of Jesus when He illustrated essential faith in God by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. There's a guy beat up. Some folks want to walk on the other side of the road. I mean, if I'm going to follow Jesus, I just can't do that."
First Baptist Church in New Orleans has multiple compassion ministries, several that serve undocumented workers and their children in the process, Crosby said.
"In my experience, undocumented workers are the most victimized and most at-risk people in my community," he said at the news conference. "They are robbed, raped and assaulted with impunity by criminals who know they will not go to the police. We've got to stop that.... [M]aybe they're here through their own fault, but how we treat them while they're here is on us."
He told reporters it is "time for our legislators to stand up and say, as hard as it is, 'Let's fix this. Let's do the right thing -- for the sake of their humanity and of ours.'"
In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish, after securing the borders, "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
EIT has called for a solution that:
-- "Respects the God-given dignity of every person;
-- "Protects the unity of the immediate family;
-- "Respects the rule of law;
-- "Guarantees secure national borders;
-- "Ensures fairness to taxpayers;
-- "Establishes a path toward legal status and citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents."
Tom Strode is Washington Bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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