Photo: Hachette Book Group
Texas megachurch pastor Joel Osteen has spoken out on the Alabama state law that makes it a crime for pastors to provide church shelter for illegal immigrants, as residents protest against a new provision to the bill that may force courts to disclose information on undocumented aliens.
"I'm not up to speed on it all, but I think in general you know the Bible tells us to help one another and to help those in need so you know, I think it's a tough position to not be able to welcome people to our churches. You know we don't necessarily know who they are," said Pastor Osteen said in an interview earlier this week with WIAT-TV, while he was visiting Birmingham.
In 2011, Alabama Christian leaders stood up against state officials seeking to enact the "nation's most merciless" anti-immigration law which puts pastors in danger of facing criminal charges for transporting, concealing, harboring or shield an illegal immigrant. The Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act takes aim at people without proper alien registration living in the state.
"If enforced, Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law will make it a crime to follow God's command to be Good Samaritans," a lawsuit by the Christian leaders stated.
"I would like to think that we wouldn't come to the point where there would be something that was restricting our faith and some of our core values of helping others. Again I don't know that I understand the law altogether, but that would be my thoughts," he added, responding to a question on what Christians should do if faced with the dilemma of breaking the law or staying true to their faith.
Another megachurch pastor, Saddleback Church's Rick Warren, said earlier this year that it is better for Christians to face jail than break God's commandments, referring to the debate over contraceptives in which Catholic institutions may be forced to provide insurance coverage for birth control under President Barack Obama's policy.
"I'd go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you? Acts 5:29," Warren tweeted on Feb. 7, referring to a Bible passage in which followers of Jesus insist they must obey God rather than human authority.
The effects of Alabama's immigration law became apparent earlier this year when Hispanic congregations in in the state began reporting declining numbers of worshipers, forcing many followers of Christ to flee their homes.
"I called them back and some of them returned. But I know of another ministry that is close to me here in town that had around 120, and now it has about 40," explained Pastor Gomez of First Baptist Church of Center Point.
The revised immigration law now will require courts to report the names, photos, and arresting information for people ruled to be in the country illegally. Opponents of the law believe all it does is separate families and that it employs scare tactics.
Illegal immigrants have also received the support of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, however, as in Dec. 2011, more than 30 bishops and church elders signed a joint letter pushing for their protection, and reform in immigration laws.
"In your suffering we see the face of Jesus Christ," said Archbishop Garcia-Siller from the Archdiocese of Chicago in the letter that focused on the hardships undocumented immigrants face supporting their families.
State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who backs the law, explained: "In my opinion it makes the court system accountable. You don't want to have a situation where in some areas of the state they are when they catch somebody committing a crime they're just releasing all those people."
"I hope he will decide to sign it," he added, referring to Gov. Robert Bentley, who sent the law back to state lawmakers for further changes citing his disagreement with the requirement for the courts.
"It does a tremendous amount of good, there's a tremendous amount of misapplication in what we passed and I hope that he will. But if he decides to veto it then we'll be back to HB 56 which I still think is the best law in the country," Beason said.