Southern Baptists join progressives on comprehensive immigration reform

Charles wrote the other day that the Tea Party and Religious Right are merging, citing the Family Research Council’s endorsement of and prayers for TP principals. That’s true as far as it goes, but I think the full picture of evangelical politics is broader than that. A few months ago, I highlighted that, like many other evangelical groups, the Christian Coalition – the group started by Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed – had endorsed Lindsey Graham’s efforts to work with John Kerry on climate legislation. Now it’s the Southern Baptists supporting the White House on immigration.

A recent Politico headline said “GOP warned on immigration” and talked about a possible shift among evangelicals who really do support the “compassion” Bush pretended to stand for. We’re not talking about the progressive American or black National Baptists, but the fundamentalist Southern Baptists. The equally conservative National Association of Evangelicals, which fired policy guru Rich Cizik for supporting civil unions, is also inching to the left on this issue. Here’s the Baptist Press on the Rev. Richard Land, who has headed the Southern Baptist Convention’s official public policy wing since 1988:

"There are some things that require presidential leadership, and the immigration issue is one of them," said Land, who attended [President Obama’s] July 1 speech at American University in Washington, D.C. "This speech by the president, in and of itself, will not solve the immigration crisis, but this speech was a necessary prerequisite to bringing about a fair and just solution to the immigration crisis that is rending the social fabric of our nation.

"In any marriage, you have to first have an initial proposal," he said. "The president proposed this morning. It's up to the Congress to now accept that proposal or to construct its own proposal and to bring forth a bill that will consummate the marriage. We need to call upon our congressmen and senators to behave like statesmen. Politicians think about the next election; statesmen think about the next generation."…

In 2006, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on immigration that urged increased border security, enforcement of the laws, and judicious and realistic dealings with illegal immigrants, while encouraging Christian outreach to immigrants regardless of their legal status…

Other evangelical leaders attending who support comprehensive reform were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council.

And what exactly does “realistic dealings with illegal immigrants” mean? Land told NPR last month, “The vast majority of these people are law abiding citizens once they've gotten here. They've worked hard. It's not realistic that we're going to round them up and send them home… I think that we need to have a pathway, an earned pathway to legal status or citizenship, whichever they prefer.”

There will always be “libertarian” folks in the woods who have their God and have their Gun and want to be left alone. There will also always be authoritarian-minded families in the suburbs who just want to be told what to believe because that’s easier. These folks, however, may make up the backbone of the Tea Party, but they are no longer representative of white evangelical voters in this country. The younger generation is splitting from the old guard, as happens every few decades in evangelical politics. True, the Politico article cites a poll showing most evangelicals don't necessarily agree with Land, but it was also less than two years ago that a PBS-commissioned GQR poll found a majority of self-identified evangelicals under 30 support either gay marriage or civil unions. This is no longer a movement, I don’t think, that can be painted with one broad brush.

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