Hispanic Evangelicals: No to Nativism

There are close to 8 million Hispanic evangelicals in the United States and we are listening closely to how presidential candidates of every political persuasion will address the issue of immigration. Moreover, not only are Hispanic evangelicals listening closely, our allies in the Anglo, Asian, and African-American communities are listening as well. In recent years, evangelicals from every culture have been advocating for principled immigration reform that deals with both security and integration. Leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptists, and almost every major evangelical denomination and organization have signed on to a statement of principles that reflects our commitments to common-sense and humane immigration reform policies.

In the last few years evangelicals have met with congressional leaders, the White House, and presidential candidates to make our case for an immigration reform policy that is both humane and fair to tax payers. Our shared values are framed not around partisanship or political expediency but rather out of a genuine attempt to follow our understandings of the gospel, Biblical hospitality, and mercy. These principles do NOT advocate against national sovereignty, border security, or fairness to tax payers. We have 21st century immigration challenges and 20th century immigration policies. Evangelicals have continued to advocate for the repair of an outdated and broken immigration system. The last major reform came during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. For some time, evangelicals have been calling for balancing immigration flows with immigrant integration in humane for undocumented immigrants and their families who work, pay their taxes, and want to contribute to our society. By the way, many of these families worship in our churches and their children attend our Sunday schools.

In recent weeks, many evangelicals have been shocked to hear the nativist rhetoric on immigration by some presidential candidates. Although we felt that there had been some bi-partisan progress on immigration with the bi-partisan Senate bill and a willingness by both Republicans and Democrats to show statesmanship and leadership on issues of immigration. This summer statesmanship has been in high demand and low supply. The last few years of honest and tough negotiations, has descended into the nefarious milieu of name-calling and xenophobia. To be fair, this is happening on other issues across the political spectrum. Evangelicals can and should demand for better from our leaders. Name-calling is not what mature leaders should do. Something I too must daily remind myself on my most frustrated days.

Well-meaning people can and do disagree on the best way forward on immigration. However, what is inconsistent with the Gospel and genuine civility is broad-brushing comments that dehumanize people in ways that does not allow us to see the image of God in them. As a pastor and evangelical leader, I am called to see the human dignity inherent in every person. For me as a Christian, I understand that human dignity is based on God’s love for every human being and that everyone has the imprint of the imago Dei. This dignity extends to people who have broken the law or with whom I disagree. I’ve learned much of this in my conversation with prison chaplains and Christian drug-rehab counselors. As Christians, the gospel requires of us that even as we seek justice we cannot obviate human dignity. This does NOT mean that we don’t seek accountability in our legal reforms or that we have to agree on every policy recommendation or nuance. It does, however, mean that we speak out anytime entire groups of people are stereotyped as criminal, rapists, or any other nefarious depiction. It means that we call “foul” when women are referred to by misogynistic and offensive names. We weep when refugee children from other parts of the world or US-born children are used as political pawns to gain easy political points.

Many evangelicals are wondering when we will return to the grown-up conversations that we were having just a short time ago. Evang√©licos are calling for bridge-builders and solutionists who seek to wisely and circumspectly “break down walls of separation” (Ephesians 2:12-14). Disparaging comments about any ethnic group mixed with calls for massive deportations on the scale of the book of Exodus, or the abolishing of the 14th Amendment enacted in July 1868 demand a response by those evangelicals who have for years called for common- sense immigration reform. We pray that this summer of nativism does not lead to a winter of discontentment by faith voters who want solutions not nativist rhetoric.

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