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Evangelicals urge biblical response to nuanced views of immigration reform

WASHINGTON (BP) – Evangelicals’ nuanced views on immigration should encourage faith leaders to offer biblical responses to all concerns, key evangelical leaders said Feb. 28 upon the release of a new Lifeway Research study sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table.

Both the compassionate care of immigrants and border security rank high among evangelicals, the poll showed, with respondents overwhelmingly desiring a clear path to citizenship and cohesive care for immigrant families.

“It’s important for faith leaders to be clear and speak to both issues, both felt needs,” Dan Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Wednesday (Feb. 28) in a virtual press conference releasing the study’s results. “We can talk about both things, the rule of law and compassion.”

Evangelical groups represented at the press conference called for cross-partisan solutions to immigration this year – ahead of the next U.S. presidential term – and did not endorse a political party nor candidate best positioned to accomplish desired goals.

Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and an Assemblies of God pastor, instead endorsed justice, love and mercy in the public sphere, and promoted “conviction and civility.”

There’s “a growing frustration that Congress can’t work across the political aisle to solve some of the most intractable problems,” Salguero said. “I hear that from people in my church whether they voted for Republican, or Democrat, or Independent or not party affiliated. We elect members of Congress to work together to solve difficult issues, and we are aware that immigration is one of them. Why isn’t Congress listening?”

National Association of Evangelicals President Walter Kim agreed with Salguero.

“We do pursue policies that are expressive of biblical convictions,” Kim said, “and we also seek to do so in a manner that is dignifying to people. And so, the kind of rhetoric that we would wish to pursue is a rhetoric that seeks to build bridges, even if there is a disagreement on a policy approach that would be presented by a candidate or the discourse that we see in Washington.

“In this election cycle all sorts of things will be said about evangelicals and their alignments, as well as organizations that the evangelicals may be affiliated with,” Kim said, emphasizing the NAE’s nonpartisan stance.

Nonpartisanship has been an important Evangelical Immigration Table principle, said Matthew Soerens, Evangelical Immigration Table national coordinator and World Relief vice president for advocacy.

“Our message is not vote for Republicans or vote for Democrats,” Soerens said. “It is to tell Republicans and Democrats and Independents in Congress that we want them to pass legislation that is consistent with our biblical perspective, and for them to know that there are many of their constituents who very strongly hold to those nuanced, biblically informed views as well.”

Evangelicals’ views expressed in Lifeway research track largely with the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration,” which emphasizes the inherent dignity of immigrants, legal pathways to employment and permanent status, border security, family preservation, compassionate speech and protecting minors from exploitation.

“This research underscores the reality that committed evangelical Christians affirm both a need for a strong, secure U.S. border and for a commonsense immigration system,” Darling said. “A clear majority of evangelicals call for a common-sense bipartisan fix to a broken immigration system. This is a clarion call to both parties to stop playing politics with this important issue and reform the system to both uphold the rule of law and respect the imago Dei of immigrants.

“A lot of Baptists,” Darling said, “are frustrated with the inability in D.C. to work this out.”

World Relief Director of Government Relations Chelsea Sobolik and Lifeway Research statistician Daniel Price also spoke at the press event.

Immigration policy is personal for many immigrants, Sobilik said, either because they’ve been directly involved in ministry to immigrants, are themselves immigrants or are children of immigrants.

“Deferring action on passing more comprehensive immigration reform not only harms us as Americans,” Sobilik said, “but … what is happening at the Southern border is not sustainable for anyone.”

Evangelicals encouraged pastors to address immigration from a biblical standpoint in sermons and Bible studies, as 82 percent of respondents voiced a desire for such, up from 68 percent in 2015.