Leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals have issued several clarifications on the group’s stance on immigration reform in the days since it released its resolution on the issue.
Over the past week, various groups – Christians as well as secular – have criticized the NAE’s decision to take a strong stance in favor of undocumented immigrants already in the country. Among the criticisms are that the evangelical body is supporting amnesty for those that break the law and that the group is becoming more liberal.
“NAE is adopting the sad trajectory of the National Council of Churches, speaking to detailed political issues beyond its traditional moral purview and the consensus of its constituency,” decried Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Tooley further said that while the NAE acknowledges that the Bible does not offer specific guidelines for modern legislation on immigration, the group has done so.
“So who is speaking here, if not the Bible?” he challenged the NAE.
On Oct. 8, members of the NAE Board of Directors had held a press conference on Capitol Hill to release its new resolution on immigration. The resolution called for more humane treatment of undocumented immigrants in the United States and the creation of a pathway for them to obtain legal status or citizenship.
NAE leaders argued that their policy stance is based on the belief that everyone, regardless of their residency status, is made in the image of God and thus deserved to be treated with respect. They also contend that the current immigration system is fueling an underground industry for false documentation and human smuggling.
“Our current immigration system is broken,” said NAE president Leith Anderson, who leads the network of tens of millions of believers.
“Those who want to play by the rules – both employers and employees – often have no realistic options,” he said.
But NumbersUSA, a public policy group that favors reducing the United States’ annual immigration levels, has denounced the NAE’s resolution as lobbying for amnesty and increasing foreign labor importation when American citizens are struggling to find jobs.
Based on its interview with Major George Hood, the Salvation Army’s national community relations secretary, NumbersUSA emphasized that not all members of the NAE have endorsed the immigration resolution.
Hood told NumbersUSA that the Salvation Army, one of the largest denominations in the NAE, did not endorse the resolution because it wanted to remain neutral on the immigration issue in terms of U.S. policy. Whether illegal immigrants should be given a pathway to become U.S. citizens is not the kind of political issue the Salvation Army is involved with, Hood said.
However, when it comes to helping people, the charity provides services regardless of someone’s legal status, Hood added.
In response to the criticisms on the resolution, several NAE leaders have issued statements and video messages to clarify the group’s position.
Roy Taylor, chairman of the NAE Board of Director, wrote an article in “byFaith,” the Web magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America, in which he addresses false assertions about the immigration resolution.
At the onset of the article, Taylor noted that the resolution was the result of 18 months of study and discussion by evangelical leaders. He then went on to say that claims that the NAE advocates open borders, blanket amnesty, and that every denomination that is a member of the NAE endorses open borders and blanket amnesty are all false.
The resolution calls for humane and efficient enforcement of the border, Taylor said. It also calls for earned citizenship or legal status instead of blanket amnesty. And lastly, the NAE resolutions are non-binding documents that its members can choose to officially adopt or ignore, stated the chairman of the NAE Board.
Similarly, George O. Wood, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, released a video message on AGTV in an effort to “ease misunderstanding” that resulted from inaccurate e-mails that circulated. Wood is a member of the NAE executive committee.
In the video, Wood cited the Bible’s teaching on how to treat immigrants and stated that the NAE is not calling for amnesty for illegal aliens, but for the government to create humane ways to address the issue.
Prior to this year’s resolution on immigration, the NAE had released two other policy declarations on immigrants – one in 1995 and the other in 2006. But the 1995 and 2006 resolutions were much briefer and far less controversial than the one released this year as they did not go into policy suggestions.
After the release of the latest resolution, the NAE has been more active on the issue of immigration. NAE president Leith Anderson last week appeared before a Senate subcommittee to testify in favor of immigration reform and the organization hosted a track on the biblical response to the immigration debate during its biennial Evangelical Leaders Forum last weekend.
The NAE says it represents 30 million evangelical Christians in the United States.