Representatives of the Evangelical Immigration Table responded Tuesday to accusations that it is a movement of leaders without followers. They also announced an effort to use Congress' August recess to press for immigration reform with $400,000 worth of ads in 56 key congressional districts.
The argument that the EIT is mostly a "grasstops," rather than "grassroots," movement came recently from evangelical author Jonathan Merritt and Institute on Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley. (A Christian Post analysis of these arguments can be found here. Responses to that analysis from Merritt and Tooley can be found here and here.)
When asked about the criticism, Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, answered that the EIT clearly does not speak for all evangelicals and part of the purpose of the ad buy is to convince those evangelicals who do not support them of their position. Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, added that many of the radio ads were intentionally bought for areas of the country with a high concentration of evangelicals.
"It's clear to everybody," Duke said, "we're not unanimous in our call for immigration reform. There are still some folks, including in evangelical life who aren't supportive, but they are clearly a minority."
He added, though, that the EIT's financial support and the appearence of pro-immigration reform evangelicals at townhall meetings this month are indicative of a grassroots movement. The money for the ad buys came from "lots of different sources," he said. They are "primarily conservative," and they are "all kinds of folks, not just grasstops folks," from "all different levels of society."
Plus, the "tenor at townhalls" has been "much different than people were expecting," he explained, as pro-immigration reform voices have spoken out and the anti-immigration reform voices have not been as strong as expected.
Mike McClenahan, pastor at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, Solana Beach, Calif., is one of the pastors lending their voice to the radio ads. Speaking for himself, McClenahan said, his decision to join the cause came from the bottom-up, not top-down. Though he never expected to be involved in immigration reform, it was his congregation who came to him and convinced him to get involved.
"I never thought I would be talking on this call or a radio ad," he recalled. "So it really has been the people of our congregation. ... From my perspective, it's not top-down at all. I feel like I'm being brought along by members of our congregation."
Carey added that evangelicals tend to be grassroots naturally because many evangelical congregations have a bottom-up governance structure.
"In most evangelical churches, we have a bottom-up leadership," he explained. "Many churches actually choose their pastors ... so we have built into our system very much a grassroots system of advocacy and even of identifying issues that will be addressed. That's why it's hard, in the beginning to coordinate a movement like ours, because we are so decentralized. But when you see the same issue bubbling up in so many places, it can be very powerful."