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Today, in Washington, D.C., hundreds of evangelicals from across the country gathered to worship, pray and meet with legislators to advocate for immigration reform as part of the Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform. The day of action marks approximately 92 days after we launched the “I Was a Stranger” challenge in which we asked individuals, churches, campuses, and legislators to read 40 Scripture passages that relate to immigrants. Over the 92 days, more than 825 churches and ministries in 49 states have participated in the challenge. Through efforts like this, we are seeing not just a shift in evangelical attitudes towards immigrants, but concrete actions to use our voices to advocate for reform.
For years, many in the evangelical community grappled with how to balance compassion and mercy toward immigrants with the rule of law. As pastors and community members built relationships with immigrants, however, they suddenly encountered a broken immigration system in which many cannot get right with the law even though they desire to. Immigration has become not just an abstract political or economic discussion but a personal and moral issue for the evangelical community. It is about friends and real people in our community whom we have come to know in our church services and at our schools. Studies in fact have found that immigration accounts for the fastest—and, in some cases, the only—growth in U.S. evangelicalism today. For evangelicals, immigration reform is not an issue about them, but rather an issue about us.
Evangelicals are also committed to the authority of the Bible over all of our lives, and it’s clear in Scripture that we are to show compassion to and care for immigrants. The Hebrew word for an immigrant, ger, in fact, appears 92 times just in the Hebrew Bible. In Leviticus 19:24, God says “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself.” God also repeatedly references immigrants along with widows and orphans as particularly vulnerable groups of people who deserve special attention (Psalm 146:9, Malachi 3:5, and Jeremiah 7:6, among others). In the New Testament, the idea of philoxenia is a call by Jesus Christ to his followers to love the stranger.
Many Christians point to the passage in Romans 13:1 that says to “submit to the governing authorities” as a reason why Christians should not support immigration reform, but in fact, this passage calls to mind the need to ensure our laws are working for the common good. When they are not, they need to be changed. The status quo—in which some laws have been selectively ignored for decades and our legal immigration system is out of touch with the needs of our labor market—is unacceptable.
Our vision for reform is outlined in the Evangelical Immigration Table’s statement of principles, released in June 2012, which was signed by more than 150 prominent evangelical leaders. The principles reaffirm our commitment to an immigration system that respects human dignity and upholds the rule of law, keeps families together, strengthens our economy, recognizes our nation’s tradition as an inclusive nation of immigrants and establishes a path toward legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants who qualify and wish to remain in the United States.
Over the past several months, in addition to the “I Was A Stranger” challenge, we launched radio ads in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Colorado, organized events with the law enforcement and business communities and had call-in days to support specific legislators. By speaking with one voice and standing for biblical principles, we are defining for ourselves why we care, what we stand for and the values that should shape our immigration system.
For years, elected officials have debated the merits of why and how to fix the immigration system, at a high moral cost. Our communities cannot afford to wait any longer for reform. The time is now to change our immigration laws that will bring people out of the shadows and put our country on a pathway towards prosperity based on principles of equality, freedom and justice for all.
Jenny Yang is vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief and co-author of “Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.”