Current Page: Opinion | Thursday, October 18, 2007
Southern Baptists and Immigration Reform

Setting the Record Straight

Southern Baptists and Immigration Reform

Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that Southern Baptists had been called out in a guest editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the issue of immigration (Southern Baptists: Push immigration reform, Sept. 9, 2007).

I am happy that Sean McKenzie, author of the opinion piece, noted the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on the crisis of illegal immigration at their annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June 2006.

The resolution, among other things, called for:

- the federal government to provide for the security of our nation by controlling and securing our borders;
- the United States Congress to address seriously and swiftly the question of how to deal realistically with the immigration crisis;
- the federal government to enforce all immigration laws; and
- Christian churches to act redemptively and reach out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants.

It is important to note that the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the SBC's public policy and moral concerns agency, which I am privileged to serve as president, has called repeatedly for comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, I called for such comprehensive measures and laid its parameters in a first-person commentary published April 27, 2006, before the Convention acted on the matter the following June.

Sean McKenzie is incorrect to state that "Land and the Baptists sat out the debate."

As anyone who knows me will attest, I weigh my words very carefully. When I called for comprehensive immigration reform, I meant comprehensive reform. Merely calling something "comprehensive" does not make it so.

I said during the March 29, 2007, press conference (referenced by McKenzie) on this issue with Senator Edward Kennedy and others, as well as on subsequent occasions-both publicly and privately to numerous congressmen and senators and their staffs-that the comprehensive immigration reform that would garner majority support among Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals had yet to be written.

There was far more than "some particular aspect of a long and much amended bill," as McKenzie claimed, that Southern Baptists found objectionable.

I did everything I could short of running through the halls of Congress with my hair on fire to make both Houses aware of many of the problems I felt needed to be addressed in the immigration reform bill.

I believed then, and believe today, that it would have been counter-productive to make such criticisms in the media.

The fact that Sean McKenzie is not aware of our efforts does not mean they did not take place. And despite McKenzie's assertion, neither Southern Baptists nor myself are afraid to "take unpopular stands." In fact, given Southern Baptists' storied and controversial stands on biblical issues, the assertion is almost laughable.

I am more than a little disappointed that neither the author of this opinion piece nor the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made inquiries of me on this matter before rushing to print with erroneous information.

Looking back at the debate over the immigration reform measure, Senator John McCain correctly assessed the situation when he concluded that the American people simply have lost trust in their government on this issue, based on the way it has been mishandled-both by Republican and Democrat administrations.

It was simply not possible to convince the American people that the federal government was serious enough about border security and cracking down on employers who exploit illegal immigrants to go forward with a so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill that dealt with the illegal immigrants already in the U.S. in a fair and redemptive way.

The American people, many Southern Baptists included, wanted a far more tangible commitment from the government that it would take border security and enforcement more seriously first. Only then would they give their support to any plan to resolve the issues surrounding the millions of immigrants who are already in the country illegally.

Southern Baptists have a long and demonstrable track record of caring for, as Jesus said, "the least of these." We are not waiting for legislation to spark us into ministering to those in the country illegally but who have real physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Although it is our prayer that Congress would come together on a true comprehensive immigration reform package that addresses this issue in a morally responsible way, we serve a higher authority and will not be impeded in fulfilling our biblical injunction to care for those in need (Matthew 25: 34-40).

Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.