Prooftexting for Amnesty
Evangelical elites split with the people in the pews over immigration policy.

Members of the Evangelical Immigration Table, June 6, 2012.


Mark Krikorian

But the more mainstream members, such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, are, I think, experiencing a delayed onset of that divide, between elite and popular opinion, that afflicts all denominations (and other institutions) with regard to immigration. The Roman Catholic hierarchy and the headquarter staffs of mainline Protestant denominations long ago adopted expansionist positions on immigration, contrary to the views of most of the people in the pews.

Evangelical Protestants are only slightly more hawkish on immigration than are Catholics or mainline Protestants, so that alone doesn’t explain why the Evangelical elite are so late in arriving at the amnesty party. Evangelical institutions have steered clear of joining in the open-borders crusade until recently probably because of their democratic character. Compared with Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, Evangelical institutions are more decentralized and more likely to be governed from the bottom up. Up to now, that worked to keep Evangelical elites more faithful to the immigration views held by church members outside leadership roles. But lately Evangelical elites have drifted from the rank and file over the immigration issue. The rift between the two sides has begun to mirror that found in business and labor and among ethnic minorities.

Also influencing Evangelical leaders to support amnesty for illegal aliens is civil-rights-movement envy. The phenomenon of later generations’ trying to recreate a golden age is common enough in other contexts; many in Occupy Wall Street, for instance, lent the impression that they felt they missed out on the Sixties and the chance to protest against the war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson. Likewise, every other journalist is a wannabe Woodward-and-Bernstein, seeing another Watergate behind every zoning-commission meeting.

The moral clarity of the civil-rights movement exerts the same kind of pull on much of the clergy. Those too young to have faced down water cannons in Alabama are always on the lookout for another chance to show that they are not as other men are. Some even see pushing for amnesty as a way of expiating past sins. Bill Hamel, the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, told ABC News: “I missed the civil-rights movement, I watched and did nothing and for decades I have regretted those days. I’m committed not to sit this one out.”

The theatrical self-righteousness of the Evangelical amnesty campaign makes one yearn for the honesty and sincerity of Chamber of Commerce immigration lobbyists. This is a policy issue that has many costs and benefits, winners and losers. Sifting through these competing interests, one must prioritize with an eye for the common good. To imply that those who arrive at conclusions different from yours are condemned to hell has no place in democratic discourse.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the application of Christian principles to immigration policy must come from Christian lawmakers and Christian policy analysts, not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write immigration law in their spare time.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.