Now that the government is back up and running, advocates of comprehensive immigration reform are ramping up their efforts, with Evangelical Christians taking center stage. The Evangelical Immigration Table has been particularly active, organizing a “Pray4Reform” campaign that (per the National Immigration Forum) has had more than 400 “prayer events and gatherings” in the last fortnight. And on October 21, the group sent a highly publicized letter to members of Congress praising them for their success thus far in moving toward reform and admonishing them to keep fighting the good fight.
So Evangelical Christians must have all gotten together and decided the Gang of 8’s bill is peachy keen, right? Not exactly. Evangelical Christians’ perspectives on immigration reform are of Byzantine complexity. But that in and of itself is an important fact to bear in mind as the debate heats up again over the coming weeks, and as various groups jostle for authority to speak for the movement. Given Evangelicals’ clout in the GOP, their perspective on the issue is, shall we say, just a little important. And that makes the complexity of their take especially noteworthy.
It also makes it extremely important to be familiar with who is speaking for Evangelicals. In June, Eric Metaxas, a prominent Evangelical leader and author, dissociated himself from the Evangelical Immigration Table. He tweeted: “Did you know George Soros was behind the Immigration thing I signed but then had my name taken off? Yikes.” That tweet also linked to this report from Breitbart about a new group called Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration that takes a very different stance. And a few hours later, Metaxas tweeted the following: “Anything Soros is behind is worth quitting. So glad I’ve had my name removed from this.”
The Evangelical Immigration Table’s backstory is of interest here. The EIT is a project of the National Immigration Forum, which (according to its 990s, the IRS form for tax-exempt organizations) receives a substantial portion of its funding from groups backed by George Soros. Although the NIF’s executive director says Soros’s money hasn’t been funneled to the EIT and that it doesn’t endorse any specific legislation, the connection between the two was enough to raise eyebrows.
The lesson of all of this should be that any sentence that says “Evangelicals believe [fill in the blank] regarding immigration [or just about any other political issue]” is seriously fraught. There are approximately 90 to 100 million Evangelical Christians in America (per Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals). That number is big, and one might expect a certain diversity. However, much of the media coverage of how Evangelical Christians approach immigration reform has focused on organizations that advocate so-called comprehensive reform. Less of the coverage has focused on the big picture within the movement concerning immigration and public policy. But that big picture is really interesting, so let’s take a look.
The letter that the EIT released on Monday reads, in part: “Through Bible reading, prayer, and public education campaigns we have mobilized a broad base of evangelical support for immigration reform. But while Congress debates reform proposals, immigrant families and workers continue to suffer under our broken system. Now it is time to finish the job. Please prioritize work to finalize immigration reform legislation this year.”
That same day, Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration — the group Breitbart reported on — also released a letter to members of Congress; same day, same issue, same demographic group, same target audience, very different timbre. Here’s an excerpt: “Please do not be misled by the National Immigration Forum (NIF) campaigns of so-called ‘conservatives’ and evangelicals promoting amnesty. Progressive, globalist billionaires including George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations heavily fund the NIF which funds many amnesty campaigns. . . . We ask you to prioritize those who respect America enough to have honored our laws and customs. In Scripture we see both welcome and walls. We do not find blanket amnesty and asylum, nor debt escalation. It is a book of wisdom, not of folly.” (Emphasis theirs.)
EBI had sent a letter to members of Congress earlier this summer that Metaxas signed on to (he tells National Review that he signed it after withdrawing his imprimatur from the Evangelical Immigration Table). It expresses the same ideas as this week’s letter, including that the Gang of 8 bill would be a mess and that there’s no Biblical basis for blanket amnesty.