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newsWhy evangelical leaders support immigration reform

These are the remarks I prepared for yesterday’s press conference sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table.

As a journalist, part of my job is to watch for change, and ask why that change is happening. There aren’t many changes more dramatic in American evangelicalism than the way its leaders have embraced the indispensable justice of immigration reform. How do you get to the point where more than 180 leaders and more than 10,000 people sign a statement of evangelical principles on immigration reform, and where 30,000 people sign up to be prayer partners in that effort?

I want to highlight three reasons for this remarkable consensus.

1) Evangelical Christians serve. They are involved in countless forms of service in cities and towns. And in those settings of service they directly experience the dignity and the needs of both documented and undocumented immigrants. And it’s both dignity and needs. This movement is not just driven by a sense of compassion for need, it is also driven by having been humbled by the dignity, commitment, and faith of immigrants.

2) Their churches and institutions have been enriched by generations of immigrants from every part of the world. A lot of pollsters like to break out the opinions of “white evangelicals.” But as you see from the group of leaders gathered here, one of the most remarkable features of evangelical Christianity in the United States is its ethnic diversity. [I venture to say that in any American city, if you look at churches founded in the last twenty years, the vast majority are evangelical or Pentecostal, and a great number are founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.] And the more you are a leader in this movement, the more you become aware of the strength of that diversity and how much of it comes from recently arrived residents and citizens.

3) They have read, and been converted by, the Bible. They have seen how directly Scripture addresses the responsibility of nations to welcome and protect the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, and ‘strangers.’ There’s a reason the Evangelical Immigration Table could put together a 40-day prayer challenge featuring biblical readings on immigration: There are 40 days worth of material in the Bible on immigrants and immigration. A just and humane system for recognizing and welcoming immigrants is a biblical non-negotiable for any nation that wants to reflect the heart of God.

One of my other jobs is to tell stories. For three years I’ve led a project called This Is Our City, telling stories about ways that Christians are seeking the flourishing of their cities. Last year we were in Phoenix, and we produced a documentary film about Ricardo, who came to this country with his family as a young boy. He became a star football player in high school, and was offered a football scholarship to college, and it was only as he filled out the forms for that scholarship that Ricardo realized not just that he could not receive the scholarship with his current legal status, but that there was no obvious pathway to ever be recognized as an American, a citizen of the country he loves and considers his own.

Ricardo’s story is a moving story. (You can view it at bit.ly/ricardoct.) But seven years ago my predecessors at CT told another moving story about another Christian who wanted to come to America, named Maria. The context was an editorial supporting immigration reform. That was 2006. It has been seven years. The stories are just as moving, the cause is just as just—it’s time for action. And that is what we are hoping for in 2013.