What Faith Leaders are Saying

Leith Anderson (Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and the National Association of Evangelicals)

Testimony to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, October 8, 2009, Washington, D.C., available online at http://judiciary.senate.gov/pdf/10-08-09%20Anderson%20testimony.pdf

“Evangelical churches have long reached out to both established and newly arriving immigrant populations. Our fastest growing churches are found in immigrant communities. In some of our denominations more than half of the congregations have substantial numbers of immigrant members.  There are no immigration or citizenship requirements for membership in our churches. Our churches embrace the biblical invitation: “Whoever is thirsty, let them come; and whoever wishes, let them take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17) We believe, withSt. Paul, that “God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11) Our churches are open to all who seek God’s grace and mercy, regardless of their immigration status. And that is as it should be.

Does this mean that evangelicals do not recognize the right and responsibility of nations to regulate their borders? Far from it. Evangelicals believe that government is a gift of God for the common good. Borders are necessary for public order. We support intelligent enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws as long as the enforcement measures are consistent with respect for human dignity, family values and the sanctity of human life.

If we are true to our deepest values, our immigration policies must prioritize the incomparable value of family. The current backlog in family reunification petitions, with waiting periods stretching into years and even decades, is shortsighted, and immoral. It causes much suffering, and tempts desperate people to work around our laws, where our system offers no realistic possibilities for timely family reunion.

Evangelicals do not condone law breaking. In fact, evangelicals recognize that all human beings have broken God’s laws, and need God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus taught that those who are forgiven must in turn be willing to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Laws must serve the good of society and create law and order; when they do not, they need to be changed.  We believe that undocumented immigrants who have otherwise been law abiding members of our communities should be offered the opportunity to pay any taxes or penalties owed, and over time earn the right to becomeU.S.citizens and permanent residents. The process of redemption and restitution is core to Christian beliefs, as we were all once lost and redeemed through love of Jesus Christ…

Why is immigration policy important to evangelicals? Certainly because we believe what the Bible teaches about treatment of “aliens in the land.” It is also because so many Hispanic, African and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us.

As we begin a new national conversation on reforming our immigration policies, evangelicals offer you a pledge of civility and humility in public discourse. We recognize that the issues are complex, and that any policy changes may have unintended consequences. When you conduct town hall meetings on immigration reform in your home states, we look forward to an honest, intelligent and respectful dialogue. We ask you to model civility in your deliberations in the Congress, and in the media. We ask you to work in a bipartisan manner to enact urgently needed reforms, for the sake of the immigrants among us, and for the health of the nation.”


Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship)

From “Defending the Strangers in our Midst,” published at Townhall.com, June 9, 2006, available online at http://townhall.com/columnists/ChuckColson/2006/06/09/defending_the_strangers_in_our_midst

“’Did you know that “95 percent of warrants for murder inLos Angeles are for illegal aliens?’ Or that ‘75 percent of people on the Most Wanted List in Los Angeles are illegal aliens’? What’s more, ‘Over [two-thirds] of all births inLos Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on [Medicaid] whose births were paid for by taxpayers.’

This is outrageous. Especially since none of it is true! Instead, it’s just one example of how, in some ways, we have gone beyond worrying about illegal immigration to demonizing the immigrants themselves.

This example came from a widely circulated e-mail that was posted on at least 130 conservative websites. It listed ten ‘facts about immigration’ and gave as its source the Los Angeles Times.

Not only was the Los Angeles Times not the source of these ‘facts,’ when the paper examined the alleged ‘facts,’ none of them withstood scrutiny. Some of them distorted the data: For instance, approximately 62 percent of all births in Los Angeles County are to Hispanic women. But this number includes American citizens, legal aliens, Hispanics from countries other than Mexico, and has nothing to do with Medicaid.

The so-called ‘facts’ about illegal alien criminality are even worse: They are deliberate misrepresentations or complete fabrications…

Christians must work to see that the immigration debate generates light instead of heat. We must insist that the illegal-immigration issue be addressed without treating millions of Americans, many of whom have died protecting our country, as a kind of fifth column.

That is the very least we can do if we are obedient to God’s command to welcome strangers.”


Michael Gerson (Institute for Global Engagement, former advisor to President George W. Bush)

Testimony to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, October 8, 2009, Washington, D.C., available online at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=4108&wit_id=8257

“I believe that a relatively open immigration system ultimately is good for the economy – though it causes dislocations that must be addressed. I believe that an orderly guest worker system would make it easier to have an orderly border.   But the debate on immigration is not merely utilitarian – not just a matter of costs and benefits. It also concerns our deepest values as a people – values often informed by faith…  It is true that Latinos, in some ways, are different from mainstream culture. Higher percentages attend church regularly. Higher percentages of Latin immigrants are married; lower percentages are divorced. These differences hardly threaten our unity or identity. Every new immigrant group has challenges. But Latinos – including illegal immigrants – often display values emblematic ofAmerica, risking much for the sake of economic and political freedom. They make our country more, not less, American.

The biblical tradition teaches a positive duty to care for the stranger in our midst. Christian ministries provide help to anyone, whatever their legal status – because if righteousness were a requirement for mercy, none of us would deserve or receive mercy. And it is a great theme of the biblical story that God’s purposes are often fulfilled through refugees – inEgypt, in the wilderness, in Babylon, in the flight from Herod, in the temporary, troubled kingdoms of this world.

These beliefs do not translate simplistically into open borders and amnesty. They do mean, however, that immigrants should never be used as objects of organized anger or singled out for prejudice and harm.”


Joel Hunter (Northland—A Church Distributed, Orlando, Florida)

Testimony to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, April 30, 2009, Washington, D.C., available online at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=3793&wit_id=7856

“In my faith tradition we all start as strangers and aliens, outsiders to the commonwealth of God. But because we have a God who was willing to do what it took to include us (at great personal cost), we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens?” (Ephesians 2:18-19a)

So I find it a high honor to speak to those in power as an advocate for those who have no power. In a verse that would be echoed in many religions, Proverbs 31:8 commands us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”…

The hope of any religion is that those who have been on the wrong path can be set upon the right path. The need for ComprehensiveImmigrationReform is to create a path that will help people do the right thing. A broken system produces a dysfunctional society, fractured families, and it increases the vulnerability of both legal and illegal residents. It helps criminals who thrive in the shadows and it harms decent people, consigning them to a life of insecurity, hiding, and minimal contribution to the general welfare.

A broken system produces both broken and crooked people. The cost to our nation in terms of productivity, national unity, and national security is depressing. But it does not compare to the damage being done to individuals and families…

Immigration reform is a morally complex as well as a politically explosive challenge. But many of us are praying earnestly for you and for God’s wisdom in this matter.

Including the stranger is not just a matter of compassion but a necessity for greatness.

Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is not only a moral commandment but a path to national nobility, if we can build a nation of families and support networks that not only help the marginalized to be successful, but help the successful to be helpful, then we can better live up to our potential as a people.

In the end, I believe our nation will be not be judged by the productivity of our budgets, or the genius of our laws, or even the earnestness of our faith communities. We will be judged, both by history and by God, by the way we treated people, especially those who needed our help.”


Lynne and Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church,South Barrington, Illinois)

From written testimony submitted to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, October 8, 2009, Washington, D.C.; excerpts available online at http://blog.sojo.net/statement-of-lynne-and-bill-hybels-for-the-thursday-october-8-2009-hearing-on-faith-based-community-perspectives-on-comprehensive-immigration-reform/

“Our faith informs us that we were all strangers and aliens once, separated from God. Because God was willing to include us in his redemptive plan, we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens” (Ephesians 2:18-19a). As Christians, we accept the biblical perspective that we are all sojourners on this earth, commanded to steward it while we await the full arrival of God’s eternal kingdom. Recognizing that we are all sojourners on this land, no matter what our legal status, compels us to extend solidarity to all. This deep sense of solidarity with others is a foundational truth of our country.  We are a nation with historical roots grounded in immigration: out of necessity, many of our ancestors came to this country, and then found a home here…

This perspective can help inform our current perspectives on immigration.  Remembering our own history as immigrants, we must take God seriously when, in Scripture, he repeatedly calls on his people to remember their past as sojourners and to treat the aliens among them accordingly.  “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Throughout the Old Testament, God repeats the command to love the alien just as he himself does (Deuteronomy 10:18), and makes clear his desire for us to emulate his special concern for the foreign-born who, along with orphans and widows, are recognized as particularly vulnerable (Psalm 146:9, Zechariah 7:10).

In the New Testament, Jesus helped define our neighbors for us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells of an individual who encounters and serves a migrant, presumably of a different culture, in need—and he commands us to “go and do likewise.”  Jesus also tells his followers to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35) when he says, “what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). These biblical principles can help guide us as we consider how to treat immigrants today, both on a personal and societal level…

Willow Creek has a sizeable portion of undocumented immigrant members who are working diligently in theU.S.to provide for their families, but because of their legal status are not able to fully integrate into their communities and are often exploited because they don’t have a voice with which to speak…

My husband and I are grieved by the fear and uncertainty dominating the lives of hundreds of wonderful undocumented immigrants in our church congregation, as well as thousands in our community. These people touch our lives when they become clients of ourCareCenter, which provides food and other services to low-income individuals throughout our community.  These stories and many others reveal a broken immigration policy that does not live up to who we are as a country.

God has entrusted the church with the mission of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).  Through immigration, “all nations” have entered our churches and become part of us.  Whatever our cultural differences, we are united as one body in Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:12-26 says that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together.  As we have listened to our immigrant brothers and sisters in order to understand how our immigration system is affecting them, we have heard their suffering and we must share their suffering.

As a result of the broken immigration system, we have undocumented immigrants in our communities.  They are us.  They are our fellow evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ, with the same desires and motivations that we have.  While the church has begun the work of integrating these members into our society, we can and must do better—and we will do better.  And we call on all Americans and allU.S.policy-makers to do better…

We have learned that many undocumented immigrants share our values and are vibrant believers in our shared faith.  Many have taught us deep lessons about what it means to be fully dependent on God for our needs; others have been models of graceful hospitality who have challenged us to be more hospitable people.  We have benefited from having them in our midst, and we are deeply grieved when they are dehumanized by a broken system or demonized by the careless words of those who don’t see their worth.

We ask all Americans to engage in this debate with civility and respect.  And we pray that our leaders will have godly wisdom regarding this issue.

Bill and I are committed to immigration reform and hope that it will pass Congress soon.”


Richard Land (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention)

From the web site of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, August 3, 2007, available online at http://erlc.com/article/statement-by-richard-land-on-truly-comprehensive-immigration-reform/

“I am in favor of a measure that includes controlling the borders and enforcing immigration laws inside the country, while offering no amnesty for lawbreakers. This is my position and the position that emerges from any fair and objective reading of the SBC resolution.

The term “comprehensive legislation” is not code for amnesty, no matter what my critics contend. Webster defines amnesty as the “act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” Amnesty is wiping a transgressor’s record clean—it is a free ride.

Proper reform should consist of a “guest-worker” program that requires an illegal immigrant to undergo a criminal background check, pay a fine, agree to pay back taxes, learn English, and get in line behind those who have legally migrated into this country in order to apply for permanent residence after a probationary period of years. Amnesty? Hardly.

To call any proposed requirement—that individuals must learn to read and write and speak English and go through a rigorous process in order to earn their way out of a lengthy period of “probation” in order to apply for legal status—“amnesty” is to do violence to the English language.

One must not only learn how to read, write, and speak English properly; one must use the language as it was intended. Words have agreed upon meanings. One cannot change the meanings of words arbitrarily. Penalties, probation, and requirements do not equal “amnesty.”

My position and the position of most Southern Baptists with whom I have spoken on this issue embraces the thought that if these immigrants choose to travel on a “path of legal status and/or citizenship,” it must include certain financial, time, and other requirements. Amnesty? Hardly.”


Max Lucado (best-selling author and Oak Hills Church, San Antonio,Texas)

From an interview with Sarah Pulliam Bailey in Christianity Today, October 2010, available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/october/26.65.html

“I’m not a political activist.  I do have stronger feelings than others on immigration reform because we have so many people here in San Antonio who have lived as illegal aliens for a decade or two. If they were told to return to Mexico, it’s not a realistic solution for many people I’m close to. I think finding a pathway to citizenship is a more responsible, respectful, neighborly approach to the solution. “


John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

From “What Should We Do About Illegal Immigration,” published at the Desiring God web site, March 10, 2008, available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn/ByTopic/187/2658_What_should_we_do_about_illegal_immigration/

“I would like to see us as a country find a way to provide for illegal immigrants to stay but still have them pay a reasonable penalty.

Such a solution would give honor to the law and show mercy to the immigrants, whose situations are so varied and so many. It’s not an easy, black-and-white, “they disobeyed, so get ‘em out of here” issue. There’s a lot of exploitation. We’ve benefited a lot from these people, etc.

As I’ve looked at both sides it seems that we could probably come up with a way to acknowledge that it is against the law (and we’re not going to say that breaking the law doesn’t matter), and yet we’re not going to say that it’s a simple and easy solution to try and ship 20 million of them back to Mexico. It’s not going to work that way.

Just like illegal parking is against the law and we are charged a reasonable fee when we’re caught, so too we should charge a reasonable penalty for illegal immigrants but one that doesn’t require them to return to their home country.”


Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference)

Testimony to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, October 8, 2009, Washington, D.C., available online at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=4108&wit_id=8255

“As Hispanic Christians, we stand committed to the message of the Cross. However, that cross is both vertical and horizontal. It is salvation and transformation, ethos and pathos, Kingdom and society, faith and public policy, Covenant and community, righteousness and justice. Each dependent on the other, not either or, but both and. We seek to reconcile a platform where John 3:16 converges with Matthew 25 while Billy Graham meets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Masters table.

For example, as we deal with immigration, via the prism of the vertical and horizontal cross, we humbly encourage Congress to finally pass and sign into law legislation that will protect our borders, put an end to all illegal immigration, create a market driven guest worker program and facilitate avenues by which the millions of families already in America that lack the legal status can earn such status in a manner that reflects the Judeo Christian Value system this nation was founded upon.

In addition, we urge both parties to repudiate all vestiges of xenophobia and nativism that saturates this debate. For the fact of the matter is that these immigrants are God fearing, hard working, family loving Children of God who reflect the values of our founding fathers and embrace the tenets of the American Constitution, The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Moreover, our desire is for every immigrant inAmericato become a productive citizen, master the English language, embrace the core values of the American idea and realize the American Dream

Finally, we understand that every day that passes without Comprehensive Immigration Reform adds tarnish to the soul of our Nation. The question arises, can this nation be saved. Let us save this nation, not by providing amnesty but by providing an earned pathway to citizenship. In the name of Justice, in the Name of righteousness, in the Name of The Divine, pass comprehensive immigration reform. By doing so we will protect our borders, protect families, and protect our values and in the end we protect the American Dream.”


Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action)

From “Is ImmigrationReform Just Another Way of Saying ‘Amnesty’?,” published in Prism magazine, July 2009, available online at http://www.esa-online.org/images/mmDocument/PRISM%20Archive/Ron%20Sider%20Column/JulAug09RonSider.pdf

“The Bible talks a great deal about how we should treat foreigners. (The Hebrew word ger refers to persons who live in an area but are not native to the local area and therefore often have no family or land.)  The biblical text regularly reminded the people of Israel that they had been immigrants inEgyptand then urged them to treat immigrants/aliens very generously. Again and again, the Old Testament links aliens/immigrants with two other vulnerable groups, widows and orphans, and commands Israel to have a special concern for them all (Psalms 146:9; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 24:19-21). As stated in Deuteronomy 10:18, God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien.”

Jesus taught that anyone in need is our neighbor, and then he commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Surely that applies to immigrants.

Furthermore, millions of these illegal immigrants are sisters and brothers in

Christ. Our oneness in Christ surely is a stronger bond than any division grounded in differing national origins. A concern to protect the integrity of the family also compels us to find a way to allow undocumented immigrants to stay. Recent estimates suggest that almost 5 million children in theUnited Stateshave one or more undocumented parents.  Two-thirds of these children are themselvesUScitizens. If we forced all these illegal immigrants to return home, we would break up millions of families.  (Children who are US citizens could return home with a parent, but that would deprive them of educational and economic opportunity.) It is much more pro-family to find a way to allow illegal immigrants to work their way to legal status.

Does all this mean we ought to grant amnesty — a full unconditional pardon— to illegal immigrants? After all, God totally forgives sinners who repent, offering them unconditional pardon through the cross. But the church is not the state.  The state rightly requires that persons pay a penalty for breaking the law. Requiring payment of a substantial fine would show that breaking the law is wrong.

Amnesty is not the answer. Neither is trying to send all illegal immigrants back home. That is anti-family and counter to biblical teaching about how to treat aliens — not to mention impossible and unworkable.”


James Tolle (The Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California):

Testimony to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, October 8, 2009, Washington, D.C., available online at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=4108&wit_id=8256

“I appear before you today in my role as pastor of a Los Angeles, California congregation with approximately 20,000 members… In my present role as pastor, I am privileged to lead the Spanish-speaking services, as well as the English ones. The Spanish-speaking segment of our church has well over 10,000 members and is made up of nationals who have emigrated from every Spanish-speaking country in this hemisphere. They are industrious, creative, entrepreneurial and in many cases, scholarly. They are also model residents… Many of the Hispanic children in the congregation I pastor, who were born in this country, of immigrant parents, are succeeding. From our congregation we see them serving in the U.S.military, attending graduate schools, and working in congressional offices. They are pilots and school teachers, police officers and customs agents. Some are newscasters, college athletes, entertainers and small business owners. Those undocumented children mentioned earlier who were brought to this country as youngsters aren’t as fortunate, but they’re just as capable.

Other consequences are also evident. Without the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, legal Hispanic citizens are being questioned more often because of the color of their skin and the accent of their speech. On two occasions in the past year, immigration “roundups” were made at area businesses in the neighborhood adjacent to our church. These raids ruined years of excellent collaborative gains in the community as the Los Angeles Police, local Neighborhood Councils and the Clergy worked together. Among those taken were undocumented workers, as well as legal residents and citizens. They were all held while efforts to determine their status were being made. Unfortunately, the cherished value of “innocent until proven guilty” was slow in being applied…

As a faith leader, I have responded to the instructions of Scripture. They have formed my worldview on this subject. My pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform comes from Leviticus 19:34, which states, “The stranger who dwells with you shall be unto you just as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” The Prophet Malachi further admonishes every believer to not “turn away the alien”, while Jesus, in Matthew 25:35, calls upon all who follow him to invite the stranger to come in. Jesus ultimately adds his confirmation to that of Isaiah’s . . . that he was to “proclaim liberty” to all.

Although every generation has had its own set of challenges, those who have joined the great American journey have always sought to fulfill the spirit of the above beliefs with immigrants of their generation. It is my hope that our generation will make the hard moral decisions. Comprehensive immigration reform is the right moral decision. Our country has assimilated millions upon millions of immigrants over the centuries. We are a nation of immigrants. Why should we stop now?”


Rick Warren (Saddleback Church, Southern California)

Interview in USA Today, September 20, 2009, available online at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2009/09/rick-warren-lords-prayer-compassion-illegal-immigration/1.

“The role of the church and the government are fundamentally different. The church must always show compassion, always. In Psalm 72, Solomon prays for power and fame but he says the purpose of influence is to speak up for others and one is the immigrant. He doesn’t delineate between legal and illegal.

I’m supposed to help people. A good Samaritan doesn’t stop and ask the injured person. ‘Are you legal or illegal?’”


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