Immigration Reform Gets a Surprising Advocate: Church Leaders Pushing Christian Republicans to Act

“... I was a stranger and you made me welcome ....” (Matthew 25:35)

As Obama unveils his new immigration plan, Republicans are being pushed to soften their approach to immigration by a surprising group: Christian leaders.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, a collection of important conservative Christian church leaders, university heads, and popular authors from a wide variety of ethnicities and congregations, are pressuring Republican Christian lawmakers to find Jesus’ immigration reform.

They have a point, theologically speaking. Conservative and evangelical Christians base their morality on the stories of Jesus in the Biblical Gospels. This usually pits them against liberal Democrats on issues like gay rights and abortion, on which the Gospels are ambiguous. However, the Gospels clearly show Jesus’ stance concerning immigration. Jesus is a friend to the immigrant.

Welcoming the stranger or foreigner is a recurring theme of the Gospels. Jesus frequently befriended people who were outsiders to his nationalist, Jewish countrymen. He worked closely with tax-collectors and lepers. His proverbs, metaphorical stories explicitly meant for moral guidance, prominently feature foreigners positively and his countrymen negatively.

So the Republican platform, which would seek to deny any illegal immigrants the opportunity to pursue a more permanent legal status, and block the families of legal and illegal immigrants, is directly opposed by the Gospels. Obama’s plan, which provides pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants and seeks to increase family visitation, is the more Christ-like approach, according to Christian leaders.

Since November, Republicans have been quick to revise their stance on immigration in an effort to regain Latino votes. They should also be worried about Christian votes.

True, the historical Jesus was not a national leader concerned with the economics of millions of ethnically diverse countrymen. The search for what the historical Jesus would do spiraled out of control years ago. Evangelical leaders and all followers of Jesus are making peace with doing Christ-like things in the 21st century. It is us today who must relate our moral questions to the Jesus of 21 centuries ago. But, on issues of hospitality and compassion, that Jesus was unwavering and clear: "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40)

Read more at Andy’s blog.