Immigration Policy and the Christian Right
Tanya Erzen printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri May 19, 2006 at 04:11:27 PM EST
[ editor's note: this story was originally published Thursday May 4, 2006 ]

On Monday May 1st, thousands of people demonstrated in cities across the United States against immigration legislation that would increase security at the border and make merely living in the United States a felony for illegal workers.   A few days before, on Thursday April 27th, the Family Research Council  sponsored the conference Faith, Culture, and Law in the Immigration Debate.

The rationale behind the conference was to gauge conservative Christian responses to what Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC) calls, "the immigration crisis" and to apply a "Judeo-Christian worldview" to public policy issues.  

The panelists included Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado. Representative Tancredo chairs the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, and he is a hero to groups like the Minutemen Project, an anti-immigration citizen group that patrols the borders to deter illegal immigrants.   According to Tancredo,

We send troops thousands of miles away to fight terrorists, but we refuse to put them on our own border to keep them out.  We will never be able to win in the clash of civilizations, if we don't know who we are. If Western civilization succumbs to the siren song of multiculturalism, I believe we're finished.

The panelists also included Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Jr., the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an evangelical group with fifteen million members.  Their mission statement reads,

To lead the Hispanic Evangelical Church in America for the purpose of transforming our culture, preserving our Judeo Christian Value System and building the spiritual, intellectual and social/political capital within the Hispanic American Community.

In his talk at the Family Research Council conference, Rodriguez reminded listeners that his organization had supported the Family Research Council on gay marriage issues.  It was the Family Research Council's turn, he argued, to publicly endorse laws that would put illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship.  "We are the gatekeepers and the loudest oracles of family values, and you can't be consistently pro-family value and then on an issue that impacts 12 million families, not be there." At the same time, Rodriguez claimed that the U.S. should immediately stop all illegal immigration and increase border protection in order to protect the exploitation of workers attempting to enter the U.S. illegally.  

The Family Research Council also recently posted results from their Value Voters Immigration Survey.  The FRC designed the internet survey to ascertain how "values voters" view the immigration debate.  Most respondents rated the importance level of immigration below judicial activism, "protecting man-woman marriage" and "protecting human life from abortion."  On the question:

My view of the requirements of Christian discipleship accords best with the following statement about illegal immigrants
 Ninety percent agreed,

Illegal immigrants should be treated humanely, but they are breaking properly enacted laws and they should be detected, arrested, and returned to their country of origin.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission,  Joan M. Maruskin of the Church World Service - Immigration and Refugee Program,  John O'Sullivan of the Hudson Institute, and Brent A. Wilkes from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)  also participated in the conference.  

According to Tony Perkins, the conference sought to balance Christian respect for the rule of law with a biblical mandate to welcome aliens and strangers.  Richard Land's remarks illustrated the tension conservative Christian organizations are experiencing between these two ideas:

As citizens of the United States, we have an obligation to support the government and its laws (Rom. 13:7). We also have a right to expect the government to fulfill its divinely ordained mandate to punish those who break the laws and reward those who do not (Rom. 13:1-7). As Christians, we also have a divine mandate to act compassionately toward those in need. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt. 22:39; 7:12).

The Southern Baptist Convention represents the largest Protestant group in the United States with more than 16.3 million members.   Richard Land actively promotes the idea of the Christian citizen:

Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians who are American citizens have responsibilities in two realms: as citizens of the nation and as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom (Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9

Richard Land and Tony Perkins realize that what is at stake in immigration policy is more than a debate about biblical values.   The Family Research Council has been reluctant to take a stance on immigration because Perkins realizes that the majority of the protestors on Monday were Latinos, many of whom are members of evangelical churches that represent a key constituency.  How the Family Research Council stands on immigration now will undoubtedly have long-term repercussions.  The future growth of the Christian Right depends on whether it can mobilize African-American and Latino conservative Christians around policy issues, especially as the mid-term elections approach.

How will leaders of the Christian right paper over these deep rifts ? - On the one hand is the inclusionary ethic and imperative of Christianity, and the deep historic claims of latinos to legitmacy on the basis that America was built on immigration.... and on the other a reactionary fear of the "other" with white supremacist sentiment festering below the surface.

Tom Tancredo's proclamations would be laughable if so many didn't actually believe such tripe, and it's shocking to me how many in the American intelligensia who would turn up their noses at such gauche displays nonetheless swallowed Huntington's bombastic claims on the alleged "clash". Scratch the surface of that one and claims on the superiority of white western-European Christian culture tend to come oozing out.  

I think the coming of age of what might be termed the American Latino civil rights movement is hugely problematic for much of the Christian right.

For example, what sort of status would the Christian right give Latino culture in the quasi-sanctified "Western Canon" ? Would they allow Latino authors and artists in or not ? - Maybe, if they are writers, only if they write in English ?

Well, that rule would seem to expunge all but Anglo-American contributions - The ancient Greeks and Roman, and the Spanish, French, German, Russian greats ( and so on ) would be sent packing. That would pose a bit of a problem and so I suppose Latinos - and great Latin American authors and artists as well - would have to be included. Good lord ! Where would it stop ! ( heh heh ) -  if Latinos are 'allowed' in how can the barricades be maintained against other ethnicities ?  I can imagine Tancredo's outraged lament of bigotry : "All of this.......mixing....where will it end ?"

by Bruce Wilson on Thu May 04, 2006 at 10:44:53 AM EST

I don't know to what extent Latino notions of "La Raza" - a bit dubious in my mind given the ethnic melanges of Mexico and Latin America - are still floating around, but to the degree they are they'd be another curious element in the Christian right political and cultural mix. Imagine the inevitable admixture of two inherently chauvinistic ethnic ( or cultural ) sentiments - White Supremacy and "La Raza - ness" - as represented in a dialogue:

Voice 1: "Hey, you got your Latino-ness in my white supremacy !......

Voice 2: "Hey ! You got your white supremacy in my "La Raza" !"

Both: "Hey, these aren't so bad together after all !  They're even kinda good together !...... ummm...... we'd better not talk about this to the others. They wouldn't understand....."

( for those who don't know the American pop-culture reference here, I'm borrowing from a legendary "Reeses Peanut Butter Cup" TV commercial that mythologized the birth of the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup as stemming from an accidental collision between two people, one eating peanut butter and the other eating chocolate. Hence : "Hey, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate !........" and so on. )

by Bruce Wilson on Thu May 04, 2006 at 11:13:39 AM EST

It seems to me that the dilemma facing 'Christian' Conservatives in regard to illegal immigration is a fine example of the kind of cognitive dissidence they must live with every day: are they to follow Written Law with Blind Obedience Or are they to follow Jesus?

by bachmantsk on Thu May 04, 2006 at 09:35:45 PM EST

that the SBC has finally seen the light on reproductive rights.

As citizens of the United States, we have an obligation to support the government and its laws (Rom. 13:7).

And people say that the age of miracles has passed . . .

by moiv on Thu May 04, 2006 at 10:19:40 PM EST

To make that government quasi-theocratic. So, it won't be much of a stretch.

I'd call it strategic positiong : if the US government or Supreme Court make unpopular legislation or rulings with theocratic overtones, the SBC will, no doubt, loudly proclaim its fidelity to render unto Caesar.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri May 05, 2006 at 10:27:26 AM EST

The church today has fallen prey to the heresy of democracy.

R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 747.

The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church's public marks of the covenant--baptism and holy communion--must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.

Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 87.


What then should we do about illegal aliens? Gary North makes the following suggestions: First, require proof of immunization, or require those without proof to be immunized. Second, abolish the minimum wage law. Third, abolish all public welfare programs. Fourth, abolish the requirement that the children of illegal aliens be required to attend public schools at taxpayers expense. Just let them work, at whatever wage they can get. In short, let them enjoy the freedom that we all want.

David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), pp. 47-48.

"We are to make Bible-obeying disciples of anybody that gets in our way."

Jay Grimstead, February 1987 (taped)


by Nom de grrrr on Sun May 07, 2006 at 09:30:41 PM EST

As my muy loco latino amigo is very fond of saying:  We're Here!  We're Latino!  Get used to it!  It loses an awful lot in the translation....sorry!


by Pauljaxon on Sat May 20, 2006 at 09:59:32 AM EST

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