Among church leaders, a new hope is stirring that 2013 could be the year for immigration reform.
While Catholics have been pushing for immigration reform for some time, a new evangelical push was unveiled this week.
A coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table has brought together evangelicals from a variety of backgrounds — the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners and Focus on the Family are only a few.
In an open letter to the White House and Congress, the group pushes legislators to establish a “path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.”
“As evangelical leaders, we live every day with the reality that our immigration system doesn’t reflect our commitment to the values of human dignity, family unity and respect for the rule of law that define us as Americans,” reads the letter. “Initiatives by both parties to advance common-sense fixes to our immigration policies have stalled in years past.”
The group’s website, evangelicalimmigrationtable.com, lists four pastors from Texas that have joined the coalition, including best-selling Christian author, Max Lucado.
The group hopes to gain more support through their “I Was a Stranger” challenge, which encourages evangelicals to address the issue of immigration in several ways: reading what the Bible has to say about immigrants, start a discussion about the issue at their local church or university, or meet with legislators about the issue.
“The heart of why evangelical Christians believe we should love, welcome, and seek justice for immigrants is our commitment to the authority of Scripture over every aspect of our lives,” the website reads. “The Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly to God’s concern for the immigrant, guiding the Christ-follower toward principles that we believe should inform both the interpersonal ways that we interact with our immigrant neighbors and the public policies that we support.”
“As Bible people, we err on the side of compassion,” said Kim Beckham, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Tyler. “We like the idea of people coming to this country so we can share Christ with them. But conservatives are also law-and-order people. We love all people, but want to see laws obeyed as well.”
Some churches, such as Trinity Lutheran Church in Tyler, offer English as a Second Language class as a way to practice their belief in helping others.
“If there is a way we can help people and a need we can meet, it makes sense,” pastor Mark Dahn said.
Catholic Charities is one of the most involved organizations in Tyler when it comes to this particular issue. Mrs. Lawrence stays educated on the current laws and new legislation, and Catholic Charities offers legal services to U.S. Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents and immigrants with adjustment of status, naturalization and citizenship, legal permanent residency and special assistance to immigrant survivors of domestic violence and other violent crimes, according to their website.
“It disturbs me that people who profess to be faithful Christians harden their heart to this issue,” Mrs. Lawrence said. “I think it’s fear. If they got to know individuals and families, they would change their attitude.”