The Accidental Activists
How Evangelical Christians are altering the spirit of the immigration debate.

Evangelical Immigration Table news conference, June, 2012


Lee Habeeb

Abraham didn’t ask for papers, or proof of citizenship, from the three men; he ran to meet them, and ran because he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to serve them. Abraham is rewarded for his hospitality; the strangers turn out to be messengers from God, who deliver to him and Sarah the child they’ve always wanted. His offspring, he is promised, will also be rewarded.

But Abraham had no thought of reward when he ran to greet those strangers. He acted out of instinct. It was his nature to be generous — especially to those he did not know. Indeed, many rabbis regard hospitality as the most sacred of callings.

Not everyone, however, is thrilled that religious leaders are using the Bible as a resource in this hot political debate. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, a Republican opposed to legalization, warned pro-legalization believers that they should be cautious about using scripture.

“The Bible contains numerous passages that do not necessarily support amnesty and instead support the rule of law,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “The Scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protecting citizens and punishing wrongdoers.”

One thing is certain: The Evangelical coalition has a way to go with its campaign to change the hearts and minds of congregants. A recent Brookings Institution poll indicated that white Evangelical Protestants were the least likely of all the religious groups surveyed to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; 56 percent were in favor of such an approach. Support was much stronger among Hispanic Catholics (74 percent), black Protestants (71 percent), and American Jews (67 percent).

But the pastor of First Baptist Orlando, the Reverend David Uth, knows the direction his church is heading in. In recent years, the historically white church has become home to immigrants speaking 32 different languages, with simultaneous translation of Sunday services into Spanish and Portuguese.

“The stories out there in the pews are stories of people from all over the world who have made friends and who have become close with people here,” Mr. Uth told the Wall Street Journal. “I think that’s why there’s movement in this church, there’s momentum, there’s an openness to try to do something to address their needs.”

The changing demography had a profound impact on at least one member of Uth’s congregation, Stewart Hall. A member of First Baptist for over 30 years, the 70-year-old began to change his views when he changed seats in his church. Something stirred him to sit in the pews near the back, where immigrants chose to gather each Sunday.

Like most human beings, people who regularly attend religious services are creatures of habit; even a seat change can be a big deal. It was a very big deal for Hall.

“Take me back 10 years ago, and I had this really hard outer shell about illegal immigration,” Mr. Hall told the Wall Street Journal. “Line ’em up and shoot ’em, and by that I really meant pack them up and get them out of here.”

The simple act of changing his seat worked miracles on his heart. “My walk with Christ has softened my view,” he added.

Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican leading the push for an immigration overhaul, welcomes the Evangelical activism. “Faith-based leaders help remind us that we are dealing with real human beings here with God-given dignity,” he said.

Does all this activism mean that being a good Christian or Jew means being in favor of a path to citizenship? Of course not. And will moving forward on a path to citizenship ensure conservatives political victories in the future? Certainly not.

But one thing is certain: If we who believe in free enterprise, the free exercise of religion, and limited government don’t get to know the large and growing Latino population in our country, they will never get to know us.

And the La Razas of this world — and the big government crowd — will own their hearts and minds permanently.

— Lee Habeeb is vice president of content at Salem Radio Network. Mike Leven is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands and a member of the Job Creators Alliance.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review