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Immigration resolution encourages secure borders, care for migrants

David Sons, chairman of the 2023 SBC Resolutions Committee, speaks during the SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. (Baptist Press/Sonya Singh)

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Amid a contentious U.S. immigration crisis, messengers to the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting resolved to biblically care for immigrants while urging just and compassionate governmental treatment.

Not many immigrants make it to Lifeway Church in Billings, Mont., where Stacy Gaylord is senior pastor, but the 2023 Resolutions Committee member was among the resolutions’ chief authors.

“If you follow the news, you can tell there’s a real crisis going on, globally, at the Southern (U.S.) border,” Gaylord told Baptist Press on the heels of the annual meeting. “The reality is that people are getting hurt. We wanted to make a biblical statement. And that’s what it is, it’s a principled statement.”

The resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration” came days before the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to U.S. immigration policy by Louisiana and Texas. The resolution comes as immigrants in Florida face a new law, effective July 1, making it more difficult for them to live in the state if they are undocumented, impacting their ability to work, drive, obtain identification and receive medical care.

Whatever the divisive laws of the land, Southern Baptists should be unified on biblical principles in caring for immigrants, Gaylord said in explaining the heart of the resolution he drafted with Julio Arriola, Send Network director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“We bear His name, we speak for Him, we do represent Him and we should be honored to do that and want to do it well, and that probably means we should start there,” Gaylord said, encouraging prayer for officials involved in addressing the immigration crisis, including the government and border patrol.

“There is no substitute — really in the immediate when it comes to policy — for the state to act in a good, just way,” Gaylord said. “We should pray for that and encourage that.

“Also, as believers, we should be very clear, irrespective of what our government leaders do,” he said, “irrespective of what the state does well or not well — and we hope well — that we’re going to represent Jesus. That’s our commitment, that’s our heart.

“We’re going to see the dignity in the people around us. We’re going to love our neighbors. We’re going to share the Gospel with them, and we’re going to want their best. What else would Jesus want us to do?”

The resolution, the fourth messengers have passed addressing immigration, calls on governmental leaders to “provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers regarding border policies, legal entry into this country, and work opportunities;” provide “robust avenues for valid asylum claimants,” and “to create legal pathways to permanent status for immigrants who are in our communities by no fault of their own, prioritizing the unity of families.”

The resolution disparages “any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation” as “inconsistent with the Gospel.”

The resolution encourages border protection, adequate resources for border patrol agents, and measures to prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Messengers first addressed immigration in the 1985 Resolution on Refugee Resettlement, encouraging churches to increasingly work to resettle legal refugees. SBC resolutions have become more detailed as immigration has become more complex.

Messengers passed in 2006 the resolution, “On the Crisis of Illegal Immigration,” encouraging the government to enforce laws protecting U.S. borders and preventing the labor exploitation of immigrants, and exhorting churches to follow biblical principles for caring for foreigners by addressing their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs including English language classes, and encouraging immigrants to follow legal pathways to citizenship or another recognized status.

In 2011, messengers passed the resolution “On Immigration and the Gospel,” declared nativism as inconsistent with the Gospel, encouraged efforts to achieve multicultural congregations and asked the government to address several immigration issues including border security, employer accountability, and legal status with restitutions. The resolution did not support amnesty for undocumented immigrants, the language specified.

The 2018 resolution “On Immigration” asserted “there have been no substantive changes in the immigration system that would make it more just, humane, efficient, and orderly” within the past seven years.

The 2018 resolution promoted safe borders, pathways to legal status and restitution that prioritized families. It decried nativism, called on elected officials to work towards fairer immigration systems, and encouraged pastors to address immigration issues with their churches.

The resolution passed in New Orleans commends “the good work of Southern Baptists among immigrants and refugees.”