WASHINGTON (BP) — Paige Patterson and Bryant Wright were among 250-plus leaders at an Evangelical Immigration Table gathering in Washington Tuesday (April 29) to urge Congress to act on immigration reform.
Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and a former SBC president, and Wright, pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and also a former SBC president, were among the event’s featured speakers.
Patterson, in a news conference, said he believes “we are at a point in this country where we are very much on the verge of acting unjustly.” It is “my desire to see the fear of God inform all of our actions,” he said.
The United States has always been known as a generous country that readily provides help and relief to other countries in need, Patterson said, calling for the U.S. to do likewise for those from other countries who come to America.
“I believe the fear of God informing our actions would cause us to reach out to many people in this country from many different origins who are not known lawbreakers, not workers of wickedness, but simply needing an opportunity,” Patterson said. “We cannot afford on the issue of immigration reform to be anything other than kind and generous.”
Patterson noted that although weather and distance prevented others from coming to the Evangelical Immigration Table event, each person in attendance represented many others who support reform. For example, Patterson said, Southwestern Seminary has many international students on campus, most of whom support immigration reform, as do many Texas pastors and church members.
“They don’t want amnesty, and they do want to be sure the borders are carefully controlled,” Patterson noted. “Given those two things, they know that the compassion of Christ is to reach out to those who are among us. Therefore, they support — by the hundreds of thousands, enthusiastically — what we’re doing.”
Patterson answered one reporter’s question concerning the Republican Party, saying part of the goal of the EIT gathering was to let the Republicans know of grass-roots support for immigration reform. He said he believes reform will receive support from most Republicans in Congress.
Wright, SBC president from 2010-12, described for reporters the resolution on immigration reform adopted by the convention’s messengers in 2011 in Phoenix.
Southern Baptist leaders saw the “need for us to have a resolution on calling for immigration reform that was based on biblical guidance and biblical standards,” Wright said. “We felt like too many of the conservative evangelical Christians were allowing their views on immigration to be shaped more by talk radio and other news outlets rather than by the Scriptures.”
The SBC’s resolution 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 asked public officials to 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.
After approval of the 2011 resolution, Wright said he returned to his church and preached on the issue.
It was his first time to travel to Washington to call for immigration reform, Wright told the news conference. He said he did so recognizing the concern of Southern Baptists and the frustration “at the lack of progress.”
“There’s just a greater sense of urgency that the time is now for the Congress to act,” Wright said.
The Senate approved a broad bill last year, but the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has said it needs some repair. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has taken a piecemeal approach, with two House committees — Judiciary and Homeland Security — approving a total of five bills. Those bills deal with strengthening border and national security, providing visas for guest workers, requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check workers’ eligibility and setting levels for the number of immigrants.
The Evangelical Immigration Table — which the ERLC participates in — is a coalition of evangelical leaders promoting a solution to secure the borders, respect the law, guarantee fairness to taxpayers and authorize a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Compiled from reports by Michelle Tyer, a newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Tom Strode, Baptist Press Washington bureau chief. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).