Tenn. Faith Leaders to Pres. Candidates: Don’t Bring Charged Immigration Rhetoric into State


NASHVILLE – Dozens of Tennessee faith leaders urged Republican presidential candidates to keep the bitter rhetoric on immigration out of the Volunteer State. Tennessee’s Republican presidential primary is March 6.

The plea came Feb. 9 in the form of a statement signed and released by some 45 leaders representing the Abrahamic faiths across Tennessee.

“We are faith leaders in Tennessee who share the goal to advance the common good,” began the statement. “We teach the Golden Rule and seek to treat others as we would want to be treated. We believe all people of faith and goodwill must welcome the stranger, protect the vulnerable and seek justice for the poor.”

The one-page statement went on to say that Tennessee’s faith leaders have taken several initiatives on the issue of immigration. The statement spoke only in general terms, noting that leaders have been “challenging the negative and untruthful narratives that generate bigotry and falsehoods.” But in the last three months alone, hundreds of clergy have gathered in Nashville on two different occasions to explore the faith community’s mandate on immigration.

“As Tennessee faith leaders, we are writing to you in advance of the Tennessee Republican presidential primary on March 6, 2012, with a simple but urgent plea,” the statement said. “Please keep the highly charged and negative campaign rhetoric, advertisements and promises on immigration out of Tennessee.”

The statement was sent to national and Tennessee campaign leaders for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rich Santorum and current Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

The statement was delivered prior to the Republican primary and thus directly addressed to the Republican candidates, but leaders also said, near statement’s end, “our deep concern applies to all candidates and campaigns this year.”

More moderate Republican voices on immigration have struggled to get an audience, according to a Jan. 30 news story at EthicsDaily.com. As Romney and Gingrich traded barbs on immigration during the Florida primary, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision not to include a bill targeting the undocumented in his new budget drew little attention.

Haslam’s posture on immigration differs from some of his neighboring governors, including Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, signer of the toughest state immigration law in the country, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. But despite Haslam’s moderating statement, Tennessee Republican legislators have filed roughly 30 anti-immigration bills in the current legislative session.

Signatories to the statement sent to Republican candidates included leaders from west, east and middle Tennessee. Rabbis, imams, pastors, bishops, professors, deans and other leaders signed the letter, which reads in part:

“We are dismayed by the destructive discourse of American politics in general and toward the undocumented in particular. We think that the heated nature of campaigns that deny the undocumented their human rights, demonize an entire class of human beings as criminals and deliver unworkable and unjust solutions robs the public square of much needed civility and harms society’s efforts to find common ground to advance the common good.”

Signatories said they respected the rule of law and cautioned against unjust laws, citing as examples segregation of the races, interning Japanese Americans and denying women the right to vote.

“We are concerned that campaign rhetoric may result in unjust laws for the undocumented,” read the statement.

“Please do not inject our state with the language of ‘illegals,’ the unworkable ideas of deporting millions of individuals and thereby destroying families, and the heated claims that characterize the undocumented and their children as a class of criminals,” the statement read.

Signatories include Ben Chamness, resident bishop of the Tennessee Conference of United Methodist Church; H. Julian Gordy, bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School; Frank Lewis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Nashville; and Melvin Talbert, retired bishop with the United Methodist Church.

Clergy from middle Tennessee gathered in Nashville in November 2011 to hear William Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Willimon said he had come to Tennessee “to repent” for not taking seriously Alabma Gov. Bentley’s anti-immigration campaign promises. In June 2011, Bentley signed House Bill 56, the harshest set of immigration regulations in the country, into law.

“I’m sorry that those of us faith leaders in Alabama, with the exception of the Catholics, were slow to realize how nefarious this immigration legislation would be for us and for our state,” said Willimon at the breakfast sponsored by Clergy for Tolerance.

Roughly two months later, clergy from middle Tennessee met again in Nashville to screen the EthicsDaily.com documentary “Gospel Without Borders.”

The documentary, funded primarily by Methodists, produced by Baptists and featuring Catholics, Presbyterians and others, “separates myth from fact, examines what the Bible says about treatment of the ‘stranger,’ shows the experiences of documented and undocumented immigrants, and provides handles for Christians to advance the common good,” according to promotional material.

Clergy for Tolerance continues to gather signatures from clergy who support the letter to presidential candidates. The statement and growing list of signatures can be viewed here.

Kathy Chambers, Co-Organizer, Clergy for Tolerance | 615-424-3923 | kathy@clergyfortolerance.org
Robert Parham, Executive Director, Baptist Center for Ethics | 615-415-2348 | robert.parham@ethicsdaily.com


TN GOP backs off immigration measures

The Tennessean
Chas Sisk
January 29, 2012

Republican leaders in Tennessee appear to be dialing down the heat on illegal immigration, but activists still worry that the volatile issue could bubble up in an election year.

Gov. Bill Haslam and leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature have said they plan to focus on only one immigration bill — a measure that would require state agencies to check immigration documents — and they are backing away from more controversial proposals, such as police checks and a ban on giving a ride to non-citizens who can’t prove their right to be in the country.

They’ve also moved toward limiting the scope of the one bill they do support.

Advocates for immigrant groups say they believe the moves signal that Republican leaders want to avoid having immigration overshadow their efforts on jobs and education, issues that Tennesseans say weigh heaviest on their minds. But advocates also express doubts about whether the GOP’s rank-and-file will agree to mute the issue or press ahead on a matter that still has the potential to energize conservative voters.

“I think it would be a mistake to assume the legislature is deciding to do away with the issue,” said Kathy Chambers, co-organizer of the Nashville-based group Clergy for Tolerance. “A lot of these representatives ran on the issue of immigration.”

Nearly 30 bills that deal with immigration had been filed in the legislature as of Friday, but most were holdovers from last year that received only cursory attention. Republican leaders say they have intentionally taken a go-slow approach to illegal immigration, one that avoids triggering legal and political disputes such as those that have followed immigration bills passed recently in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. Continue reading


Tennessee Clergy Step up the Fight Against Anti-Immigrant Laws

Faith in Public Life – Bold Faith Type Blog
January 27, 2012, 8:00 am | Posted by Lukogho Kasomo

In December, we blogged about Clergy for Tolerance, the new group of interfaith leaders in Tennessee  pushing back on anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation in their state.

The clergy coalition has seen major growth lately. According to Kathy Chambers, co-organizer of CFT, at the most recent meeting “almost half the attendees were new to Clergy for Tolerance, which shows this issue is gaining traction within the Middle Tennessee faith communities.”

She also explained that the 180th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee had adopted a resolution vowing to stand with immigrants and advocate for their protection. Most of the authors of the resolution attended the event. Continue reading


In Alabama, a church sees its Latino brethren vanish

By Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times

December 30, 2011

Reporting from Tallassee, Ala. — The small group, six Mexican men and a woman from Guatemala, sang No. 619 in the hymnal with a force that belied their number:

“Alabad a Jehova! Naciones todas, pueblos todos …”

Praise God! All nations, all people …

They had come this Sunday morning to pray, as they always do, at Riverside Heights Baptist Church, out beyond Rosehill Cemetery, where the graves of Civil War dead are marked with tattered Confederate flags.

Victoria Pajaro banged out a piano accompaniment in the vigorous style that Southern Baptist missionary women had taught her years ago in Colombia. After a Bible reading, a pastor named William Robles, speaking in Spanish, abruptly mentioned the state’s new immigration law, which requires that police check the residency status of suspected illegal immigrants.

We cannot assume that the whites who supported the law are bigots, he told the congregation. Only God knows the content of their hearts.

In an hour, the sanctuary would fill with the church’s white members, nearly all of them conservatives and most supporters of Republican Gov. Robert J. Bentley, the Southern Baptist deacon who championed the law as the nation’s toughest after signing it in September.

For more than a decade, however, the white Southern Baptists in this small country church have opened their doors, wallets and hearts to a group of Latino strangers who appeared among them suddenly one Sunday, desperate for a place to pray.

They hired a bilingual pastor, launched a countywide “Hispanic mission,” and let their children play side by side with the newcomers’ kids on field trips and in summer camps. They knew or suspected that many of them were here illegally.

Now, since the law’s passage, the Latinos are moving away. And in the pine pews of Riverside Heights Baptist Church, many white members are struggling to reconcile strongly held convictions about a lawful society with their compassion for their new brothers and sisters in Christ. Continue reading


Immigration Documentary to Be Screened in Nashville, Local Churches

By: EthicsDaily Staff
Posted: Monday, January 9, 2012 6:37 am
Section: EthicsDaily.com’s Latest Articles

If  all one knew about immigration came from cable-TV clips of Republican presidential contenders promising a crackdown on the undocumented, and newspaper articles about court challenges to anti-immigration laws, one might conclude that the faith community is passive about one of the country’s hot-button issues.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Mostly beyond the secular media’s radar is a quiet educational effort in churches to address immigration from a moral perspective.

During the fall of 2011, some 12 public screenings and a number of local church viewings were held of Gospel Without Borders, a documentary on faith and immigration produced by EthicsDaily.com.

That initiative continues in 2012.

The Nashville-based Clergy for Tolerance is sponsoring on Jan. 24 at Loews Hotel a screening and panel discussion for Tennessee clergy. The screening is a follow-up to CFT’s Nov. 30 immigration breakfast thatdrew some 300 faith leaders.

Program leaders will include Julian Gordy, bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Frank Lewis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Nashville. Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, will moderate the panel discussion. Continue reading


Evangelicalism’s Changing Heart on Immigration

The conventional wisdom among pundits and journalists holds that immigration is a key to winning over the evangelicals who dominate the Republican presidential nominating process in the early states. This is why the GOP candidates continue to jockey to see who sounds more restrictionist.

But this thinking fails to capture a growing sense in the larger evangelical world that the problem of illegal immigration must be handled with care, not because of electoral sympathies, but because of a changing sense of mission in the church.

Like most Americans, evangelicals are concerned about immigration. We believe a government has a right to uphold its laws and secure its borders. This is drawn from the Scriptures’ delegation of authority to man-made government (Romans 13). But increasingly, this generation of Christians is awakening to another set of biblical injunctions: the responsibility to care for the vulnerable among us, especially the alien. Evangelicals are committed to addressing immigration-both in our interpersonal interactions with newcomers and in the public policies that we advocate-in ways that both honor the law and are faithful to the divine command to “love those who are aliens” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
Historically, evangelical organizations have been largely silent on the plight of the immigrant. Causes such as abortion and the sanctity of life have dominated their political engagement. But in recent years, and even more in the last few months, attitudes have shifted toward the undocumented immigrant in our midst.  Continue reading


“Gospel Without Borders” Screening and Panel

Title: “Gospel Without Borders” Screening and Panel
Link out: Click here
Start Time: 2:00 pm
Date: 2012-01-24


Tennessee discusses immigration: Faith leaders Address ethical, moral impact of pending legislation

Originally appeared on December 12, 2011 on the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church website

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than 275 faith leaders from across Tennessee gathered here Nov. 30 to consider the ethical and moral impact of pending legislation that would affect immigrant communities statewide.

United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon of North Alabama Conference urged attendees not to “leave these moral and ethical matters to your politicians.”
Priests, pastors, imams, rabbis and monks attended a Clergy for Tolerance breakfast at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel to hear keynote speaker, Bishop William Willimon, episcopal leader of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is one of four Christian leaders who joined a federal lawsuit to try and stop Alabama’s recent immigration legislation considered to be the most egregious in the nation.

“Please don’t leave these moral and ethical matters to your politicians,” Willimon urged, “Speak up as people of faith from your faith perspective and show the world that you have something to say on this issue.” Continue reading


Catholic bishops: Don’t treat illegal immigrants as criminals

Originally appeared on December 12, 2011 in the LA Times

More than 30 Latino bishops of the U.S. Roman Catholic church, including Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, have released a joint letter directly addressing undocumented immigrants and renewing their pledge to work for immigration law reform.

The letter, which acknowledged the suffering illegal immigrants face in coming to the U.S. and noted the difficult jobs, low wages and deportation of family members that the immigrants may face, called them a “revitalizing force” for the United States.

“Instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws,” the bishops wrote in the three-page letter released on an important day for Latino Catholics, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The letter also acknowledged that many Catholics have not supported the church’s work with regard to immigration reform.

“The lack of a just, humane and effective reform of immigration laws negatively affects the common good of the United States,” they wrote. “We promise to keep working to bring about this change.”


Sisters Use Billboard For Immigration Campaign

Originally appeared on KCAU-TV Sioux City, Iowa website

Catholic sisters from ten religious communities in Iowa and neighboring states kicked off a campaign on immigration Monday.

The sisters are responsible for a billboard that’s up on Interstate 29.

Their hope is that this billboard, along with others across the state, will provoke discussions about immigration and encourage people to know their candidates before they head to the polls.

Sister Shirley Fineran with Franciscan Sister says, “Putting up a billboard at this time is very timely in terms of the upcoming election year and caucuses so we’re hoping that people listen. It’s a good time to write to our legislators and certainly President Obama.”

The sisters have declared themselves “welcoming communities” and they hope other people will as well.

Their campaign is a direct response to a deportation program that aims to identify and remove illegal immigrants from the country.

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