The Nation's Pulse

Religiously Marching for Immigration

Apparently the Lord wants anyone to be able to walk across the U.S. border unimpeded.

By 3.26.10

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Overshadowed by the Obamacare vote, tens of thousands marched on the National Mall on Sunday March 21 for "Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)," including numerous religious groups. Called the "March for America," sponsors included immigrants groups and labor unions, as well as ACORN, CodePink, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Council of Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Essentially the marchers want a rehash of the failed 2007 legislation creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which critics call "amnesty," as well as increased visa quotas, a guest worker program, and enhanced family reunification. New York Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing a Senate version, while Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois is pushing the U.S. House version.

Oldline Protestant liberals naturally were prominent in the march, and the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill served as a staging area for demonstrators. "We saw the integrity of law enforced, but the integrity of individuals and persons forgotten," exclaimed Phoenix-area United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano at a pre-march religious rally. (You can read my assistant Connor Ewing's article here.) She was bewailing a 2008 Iowa immigration raid. Officials of her denomination oppose any substantive enforcement of current immigration law and resist the imposition of new law. Carcano denounced "that despicable wall" along America's border with Mexico that has "brought a shadow upon this country as dark as night."

Does national sovereignty serve any providential role for the Religious Left? Apparently not. Bishop Carcano seems to oppose any kind of border protections. "As people of faith, we knew it was coming because the God we serve won't let walls of oppression and separation stand," she enthused about a bureaucratic slow-down in completing the long-discussed southern border fence. "The sea had refused to let those pillars stand," Carcano rejoiced over the destruction of a coastal border fence by waves. "If the waters of the sea could do that to the pillars, what could we Christians do if we let the waters of our baptism…topple the pillars of injustice?"

Apparently the Lord wants anyone to be able to walk across the U.S. border unimpeded. Carcano insisted that CIR's critics are opposing "the reign of God." It's not clear if the Religious Left believes the Almighty opposes national boundaries for any nation, or just for the United States. Either way, many of these religious activists assert that Christian compassion requires that all of U.S. citizenship's benefits should automatically be available to everyone of the world's over 6 billion people. It is a sweeping claim. 

Joining the Religious Left at least as of last year is the once solidly conservative National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which has endorsed CIR and the "March for America." Some NAE voices are weary from combat over abortion and same-sex marriage and see CIR, like the NAE's environmental activism, as supposedly less culturally confrontational. The NAE's pro-CIR resolution, approved last year, recalls how the "Bible contains many accounts of God's people who were forced to migrate." And it insists that God's people must show a "generous spirit" towards the ostensibly displaced. (Read my colleague Alan Wisdom's analysis of the NAE stance here.)

Regarding law enforcement and national security, the NAE resolution was somewhat dismissive of any "simplistic defense of 'the rule of law,'" and only grudgingly admitted "God has established the nations (Deut. 32:8, Acts 17:26), and their laws should be respected." At least the NAE grants more than the old Religious Left, which snarls at the mere mention of border fences. With similar brevity, the NAE acknowledged that some "communities now struggle with significant stress on infrastructures in education, health care, social services, and the legal system" because of immigration.

But the NAE breezily conflated legal immigrants with illegals, and failed to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, even victims of religious persecution, whose plight presumably would merit NAE's special attention. The NAE also complained that current quota systems preclude enough visas for current labor needs, without explaining how this is true during a recession, or how greater immigration would affect current legally resident immigrants, not to mention others on the bottom of the economic ladder.

The NAE does not directly challenge national sovereignty or law enforcement as the old Religious Left does. But it does mostly repeat the Religious Left's mistake of confusing the state's responsibilities with the church's. The former providentially upholds the law, defends its people, and punishes malefactors. The latter offers ministry and grace to all persons. These two callings are not at odds. But the religious activists marching last Sunday, whether evangelical or oldline liberals, largely assume that governments must endlessly offer mercy and benefits to all comers without regard to behavior. Traditional Christian teachings would recognize such an approach as anarchic and lacking moral perspective, breeding injustice for all parties.

A recent commentary from an NAE official could just as easily have come from the National Council of Churches, romanticizing the "sojourner," and insisting that "those who welcome strangers are said to be entertaining angels." Religious immigration activists commonly identify biblical heroes as struggling immigrants, by implication supposedly having violated the immigration laws of ancient Israel or Egypt. "We see the hand of God in the movement of peoples throughout history," this NAE official proclaimed.

No doubt. But is God opposed to any lawful restrictions on immigration? Has God provided clear legislative guidance on the best immigration laws for the modern United States? Does Christian compassion compel disregard of or resistance to current immigration law? Few of the religious immigration marchers on Sunday seem to have answered these questions very seriously.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.