Southern Baptists’ struggle over immigration

WASHINGTON — As a guide for law or legislation, the Southern Baptists’ new resolution on illegal immigrants is virtually useless. It’s vague, confusing and perhaps inherently contradictory. It wouldn’t help Congress pick its way through the political thickets associated with addressing the plight of the undocumented.

Nevertheless, the Baptists have done something very useful: They have established a moral marker for their congregants, some of whom are governors, state legislators and members of Congress. Since so many conservatives in public life like to point to their religious views as a guide for their political acts, the resolution ought to have a substantial influence on immigration debates.

Last week at its annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention called for “a just and compassionate path to legal status” for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented workers. The “messengers,” as the convention delegates are called, also denounced bigotry and harassment toward those who are here illegally.

The resolution was hotly debated, and it carries no imprimatur   of authority for the millions of Southern Baptists across the country, whose churches take pride in their autonomy. They have no hierarchy — no pope or bishop to enforce adherence to church doctrine.

Furthermore, the clause in the resolution that dealt with legalization barely survived, with just 51 percent of the messengers supporting it in an early vote, according to the Baptist Press.

The delegates later added an amendment which noted that the Baptists were in no way endorsing “amnesty,” a hot-button term without any precise meaning.

Still, the Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant group and one of the most conservative religious bodies in the country, managed to end up sounding a lot more like President Barack Obama than, say, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who recently signed a vicious anti-immigrant law that harkens back to the days of Jim Crow. As the vote proceeded, Southern Baptist seminarian Russell Moore tweeted: “Our response to the immigrant communities in this country cannot be ‘You kids get off my lawn’ in Spanish.”

The Rev. Bryant Wright, a suburban Atlanta pastor and president of the SBC, told me that the focus of the resolution was on “sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the folks who have come in to the U.S.” He acknowledged, however, that the evangelical mission of Southern Baptist churches could collide with harsh new laws aimed at illegal immigrants.

“I realize that once you start to reach out and deal with those folks’ personal stories, some interesting situations are going to develop. Those are going to be issues that every church ministering to immigrants is going to have to decide,” he said.

Phoenix, where the SBC held its convention, served as the backdrop for the debate, but Arizona is having to share its anti-immigrant notoriety. The Bible Belt — traditional home of Southern Baptists — has also seen a wave of codes and sanctions meant to force illegal immigrants to leave.

Georgia, for example, is struggling with a severe shortage of agricultural workers that many farmers are attributing to a law that Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed in May. Even former Gov. Sonny Perdue, Deal’s Republican predecessor, said the law has created “a real fear and perception that Georgia is probably not a state to be seen in if you’re of a different color.”

But Alabama, my home state, has gone much farther than Arizona or Georgia, passing the broadest and ugliest anti-immigration law in the land. It not only gives law enforcement officials the authority to determine legal status, but it also demands that schools determine whether students have legal documents. (That’s just foolish time-wasting, since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools must educate minors, whether they are here legally or not.)

It would penalize property owners if they rent to persons without legal documents. It also makes it a crime to harbor or transport an illegal immigrant.

That raises the prospect that a faithful church member could be arrested for giving children without papers a ride to Sunday school. Is that what Alabama’s governor, a longtime deacon in a Tuscaloosa, Ala. Baptist church, had in mind?

146 comments Add your comment

The Snark

June 22nd, 2011
9:17 am

Looks like the Southern Baptists are really struggling with that pesky Sermon on the Mount.

Philosopher

June 22nd, 2011
9:18 am

The real issue in the question brought up should be: Why does anything a religious group have to say matter so much, anyway? The reason the Baptist pronouncements matter is because of the incredible political power they hold over most of the people, politicians, and schools in the south. They hold this power because the south is still populated with sheople who worship preachers instead of God. This is not a faith we’re talking about but a religious machine…a cloak around a movement to own and control as many people as possible…it’s all about money and power. Since the main religion of Hispanics is Catholicism, it is not surprising that the south would strongly support “ugly” immigration laws,

Hammer

June 22nd, 2011
9:18 am

Illegal = stealing; Naturalized citizen = law-abiding citizen

williebkind

June 22nd, 2011
9:20 am

Jezz A. Bell – The Phoencian SinSation

June 22nd, 2011
9:04 am
Prove me wrong! Back your intelligence!

casual observer

June 22nd, 2011
9:21 am

Since so many conservatives in public life like to point to their religious views as a guide for their political acts, the resolution ought to have a substantial influence on immigration debates.

Most Christians use their religous views to guide all of their acts.

Is that not true with Libs?

Hankie Aron

June 22nd, 2011
9:21 am

Yes Corey, people tend to trust those that are around them more than people that are not. No epiphany her sir. That’s been for a long long time brother

Truth

June 22nd, 2011
9:23 am

I imagine the Baptists are like all Christians, they are for Immigrants but opposed to “ILLEGAL ALIENS”. This is what people like you do in the media. You try to disarm the good people of America by changing just a few words to control the masses. Quit calling them immigrants.

Wally

June 22nd, 2011
9:23 am

I know very few people who are sympathetic to the illegal criminal problem we have in this state. That is why the bills passed,the people of this state have spoken. They are stealing from everyone of us and trying to change the way most sensible/responsible citizens live. Please someone tell me why they,illegals, would stop and render aid or take responsibility for their actions in a car accident.What they would do is best ddescribed as CRIMINAL. I have witnessed it.

Hankie Aron

June 22nd, 2011
9:23 am

It’s nothing mysterious or spectacular. Just a casual observer. Do not hate the person, hate the sin.

Construction Employer

June 22nd, 2011
9:23 am

I Also want to add that I along with a lot of other people are losing a lot of good friends.

It is sad. This law is just cruel in so many ways.

HELP AJC!!!

Hankie Aron

June 22nd, 2011
9:24 am

Very true, truth. It’s always been about control. A nation of sheep breeds a gov’t of wolves

Just say'n

June 22nd, 2011
9:26 am

CT, there’s racial profiling and then there’s religious profiling and then there is “regional” (Southern) profiling, etc.!

casual observer

June 22nd, 2011
9:26 am

If Illegals voted Republican, would CT even care about them? I seriously doubt it!

kimmer

June 22nd, 2011
9:27 am

Hey Ernesto. Insisting that the law be obeyed and putting in place statutes to address a clear rampant disregard for the law does not connote a lack of compassion and love. Let’s take all of those Bible verses you cite. Do they apply to other criminals as well and we should just pardon ‘em all or do these verses just apply to illegal immigration? If the latter is true then why?

guy

June 22nd, 2011
9:28 am

Who cares what Baptists think or vote for? What matters is what the law of this country is.You can’t legalize breaking the law!!!!! Why do so many people run from the truth?

williebkind

June 22nd, 2011
9:29 am

“How can a Christian claim he or she loves Christ if they do not have compassion and love for others?”

Are you infering Americans do not have compassion? After all the blood and money Americans have given to the world! I dare say to you, “Do not try to be holy using misinformation!”

Waldo

June 22nd, 2011
9:30 am

A stopped clock is right two times a day & that’s two times a day more than Cynthia. Invoking Jim Crow? That cheapens everything fought for in the civil rights era. Could you be any dumber? I swear the newspaper industry is the only one where complete stupidity is encouraged and rewarded. You’d better pray that the AJC never goes out of business Cynthia because flipping burgers is about the only thing you’re smart enough to do. (I apologize to all the burger flippers out there for that comparison)

redhousecat

June 22nd, 2011
9:30 am

“a just and compassionate path to legal status” are the laws we have in this country and the processes in place to become “legal”. Can’t get any simpler and more compassionate than that.

williebkind

June 22nd, 2011
9:32 am

guy

June 22nd, 2011
9:28 am
Guy has a very good point, “You can’t legalize breaking the law!”. Why do the liberals do that! They failed using activist judges and now they simply want to legalize breaking the law. How unAmerican!

Bob Rooney

June 22nd, 2011
9:41 am

Illegals are taking advantage of our healthcare system.
ruin our economy and steal jobs from unemployed Americans.
Help to protect the new law.

Google this: numbersusa.

Once you are registered, go to the “action board” to send FREE faxes now.
They are all typed up and ready to go, you just need to click your mouse to send.
Forward this to everyone you know.

cosby

June 22nd, 2011
9:44 am

Once again, illegal is against the law..what is so hard about that. There is a wrong way and a correct way to imagrate into the USA. As for the big deal on agriculture and help – employment is at an all time high…welfare rolls are full..why not take the welfare receipants, still allow them to receive their wonderful government handouts, have the farmers pay what they pay the illegals and hopefyully after one season, they will decide to take care of themselves. enough of this poor poor pitiful unfortunate or the poor agriculural community that needs slave labor. Unless, of course CT, you believe in slavery, which apparently you do!

Jethro

June 22nd, 2011
9:46 am

Typical. Long list of problems, short list of solutions.

The answer is that our government is most at fault because it won’t enforce the laws it is charged to defend. That is the whole reason this debate has fomented. The “yeah, but” argument rings hollow.

If there is such a need for labor, why then can’t these “undocumented workers” become documented? Too hard? It’s supposed to be hard. It’s not enough to want a job. Doubt me? Try, as an American citizen, to get a job in Mexico. Or Guatemala. Wherever.

Just because we are the wealthiest country in the world doesn’t mean we have to give our wealth to every Tom, Dick and Jorge that doesn’t “have.” Play by the rules or don’t play. That applies to Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, everybody.

Wally

June 22nd, 2011
9:46 am

Hey consruction worker…I bet you hate losing your DUI& Drug dealing buddies when they are incarcerated as well. Maybe you should try making NEW friends,ones that are here legally. HMMMMMM

hdhd

June 22nd, 2011
9:47 am

“They can only become citizens if the join a Baptist church; Catholics and Jew go back to Mexico.” Lolz.

NoWay

June 22nd, 2011
9:48 am

My wife is a LEGAL immigrant who has been here for almost 12 years. She is STILL waiting for her permanent resident status to go though. She owns a rental property and pays all taxes that a legal citizen would. Why should people who have no regard for US laws get to jump in line in front of her?

Souther Baptists should keep their noses out of governmental affairs, that is, unless they want to start paying taxes.

The Nerd

June 22nd, 2011
9:48 am

The bottom line is that I’m STILL ashamed of being a Georgian because of a racist law judging immigrants regardless of status.

Ernesto

June 22nd, 2011
9:48 am

@Kimmer, As the bible states it clearly, our main concern is to love God and love others as well. With love comes patience, kindness. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

If laws are established they should be obeyed. But laws can be changed to protect and care for everyone.

joe

June 22nd, 2011
9:49 am

Perhaps they should “donate” a portion of the funds in their collection plates to pay for them…instead of putting the bill at the feet of overtaxed tax payers.

ATF

June 22nd, 2011
9:54 am

It is important that the SBC actually made a statement, fuzzy though it is. They, too, recognize that what Newt said is true: “we are not going to deport 11 million people.” More than that, they recognize that there are many families that have been here for years, work, have health insurance, bought houses, paid taxes. We are hearing more and more stories of stable families being broken up because a parent gets deported.

There are good people among the illegal aliens who are here. We need to create a set a conditions that lets them stay.

casual observer

June 22nd, 2011
9:59 am

The Nerd

I’m STILL ashamed to be an American that has a government that won’t protect its citizenry from being economically bankrupt by Illegal immigrants that are overloading the LEGAL taxpayers of this country. That already has a spending and debt problem. It is not the burden of the American people to house, provide education, provide healthcare, subsistence to people from another country that has entered this country illegally. Simple as that

Grow up and look around there is no Utopian society that has no order and discipline . I have a great Idea maybe we should adopt the same immigration law as the countries we are over-run by?

Red

June 22nd, 2011
10:00 am

Two points here – to those who keep saying “one word – illegal” and variations of that, do you have the same judgment and criticism for the patriotic flag waving Americans who are hiring the illegals? The illegals are here because there is a demand. Americans are hiring them. Americans are creating the problem. Punish the Americans for actually breaking the law and cheating the rest of the country and the illegals go away.

Perhaps in all of this criticism over Georgia’s and Alabama’s stances on the new laws, that same criticism would be channeled up to DC and specifically the White House. In all this comparisons of racism, the Jim Crow days, and other knee jerk phraseology, these critics would actually be pushing to clear the red tape and open the amount of work visas in this country. Farm Bureau and all of the campaign cash and lobbyists they have are doing nothing but complaining. Where is the movement to open up more visas? I don’t see Cynthia Tucker demanding anything from Obama either. Where is her editorial actually calling on her fellow liberals to do something? Democrats had Congress and the White House and did nothing on the subject. They shoved healthcare through (and handed out exemptions to this ‘wonderful’ program to campaign buddies) and clocked out. Anything else that actually mattered was forfeited. And now all the Left wants to do is whine. All Farm bureau wants to do is complain. And all Cynthia Tucker wants to do is take swipes at Baptists and bring racism of yesteryear up. Very productive. THAT always accomplishes much.

Halftrack

June 22nd, 2011
10:01 am

CT; I wish you would spend a little of your time to come up with an adequate solution to the immigration problem and tell us how the present government can be held accountable for the laws that are on the books. If our laws had been enforced before, we wouldn’t have 11 million + illegals to deal with. If all of us can pick & choose what laws we want to obey – - – then we have chaos.

More and more Christians

June 22nd, 2011
10:03 am

Most illegals (other than the infiltrating Al-Qaeda types from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Eqypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. that are caught in Arizona and other locales) are already Christian, probably Catholic. So we can assume that the main purpose of the SBC is to help a fellow Christian in a Christian manner.
Have any of the states that have passed “anti-immigrant” laws done much more than codify (at the state level) what the federal government is supposed to already be doing (but blatantly does not)?
On a side note, I saw that Ms. Pelosi’s brilliant piece of socialized medicine (”Pass the law and then find out what is in it”) contained a small loophole in which 3 million (supposedly unintended) middle class people get free health care under Medicaid. Gosh, that’s only another $15-30 billion a year (times ten years, what do you know, the law is not adding to the deficit, as we all know it will).

steve from Dalton

June 22nd, 2011
10:04 am

Not the role of the Church to get into the immigration issues.

Terrell

June 22nd, 2011
10:12 am

Corey,

I agree to a certain extent. Illegal immigrants weren’t a problem at first because they provided cheap labor and employeers were ok with that, but the fact is, that unlike blacks, they are not US citizens and they aren’t being kicked out because of their race but because they are illegal. They aren’t getting beaten and they aren’t being held from work so you’re not comparing apples to apples here.

Kuntchak

June 22nd, 2011
10:14 am

CT – can you even right an article without mentioning Jim Crow? You are part of the problem, living in the past, still spitefull for being called racial slurs I’m sure back in Bama. That’s fine, do what you want, all I’m saying is, you are a one trick pony and not at all entertainng, educational, informative, logical, or interesting.

GTC

June 22nd, 2011
10:16 am

I am tired of hearing that the illegal are taking our jobs. They are doing jobs nobody else wishes to do. They also provide for the local economy by buying, renting and spending. Taxes, yes most do not pay taxes but do all americans pay taxes? I do not think so, specially the rich who spend money on an accountant so they do not have to pay taxes. Ask yourself: if i had their needs, would i jump the border for a better life? Last, we are all immigrants in this Nation. What is the protestant church doing?!?!

Gerard

June 22nd, 2011
10:18 am

Matthew 25:35 For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was homeless, you gave me a welcome. Many of these undocumented came over as children and with legal work or visitation visas that have expired. But i do say right on to the “conservative right” because its shocking to see they are actually acting with human kindness to the undocumented, real people who work, real people who pay taxes, people who are just like us, wanting to get ahead in life…

redneckbluedog

June 22nd, 2011
10:20 am

Did you hear that giant sucking sound..? That was the illegal immigrants leaving Georgia and Alabama….Sounds like sweet music to me…!!!!

NAGA

June 22nd, 2011
10:20 am

Wow Bookman’s piece all over again. F- on creativity.

For all you “believers” who have a bleeding heart maybe you should first read (& comprehend) what the good book says about lawbreakers:

1 Peter 2:13

Jordan P

June 22nd, 2011
10:22 am

@carlosgvv
The Word says YOU should obey the law of the land. It does not say you should make THEM obey the law of the land. YOU are accountable to God for yourself, not for evey illegal.

If the SBC decided that they disagreed with the laws that does not mean they have disobeyed the laws.

I pray you have some conviction to follow the greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. Christ said that, “as you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” Go ahead and throw Him out along with the illegals – treat Christ as sub-human. Good luck with that one.

WOODSTOCK MIKE

June 22nd, 2011
10:25 am

Every civilized country in the world has immigration laws, why shouldn’t the US? Hasn’t anyone taken a look at the financial situation in America? When an illegal gets sent to prison who pays for it? When an illegal goes to the emergency room, who pays? When an illegal uses the school systems who pays? We don’t live in a perfect world, everyone respects the fact that many illegals come here for a better life, that’s not the point here though. If illegals are having a major negative effect on the country what can you do, just sit back and let it happen? Don’t think that’s the most logical answer, do you?

Another Voice

June 22nd, 2011
10:26 am

More religious hypocrisy these are the same folks that at one point even though Jesus never advocated to be harsh to another human but rather to help one and other excuse racism and segregation in the past. Now for a while the have excuse harshness against immigrants based on their legal status in the country. What did Jesus advocate to do????? not this!!!! It seems like pure political posturing measure in the end these folks have not change they are still the same……

Don't Tread

June 22nd, 2011
10:26 am

“It also makes it a crime to harbor or transport an illegal immigrant” – which is already illegal under federal law. Oh, how vicious.

California loves illegals (so do New York and Illinios) – let them move there if they don’t want to go home.

RLJ

June 22nd, 2011
10:28 am

carlosgvv,

As I said when you posted this before, the SBC is not breaking the law, but proposing that it be changed. They are not violating the NT, but dealing with two complex issues–obeying the law and reaching out to the foreigner, which is also endorsed by scripture.

CT,

Minor correction–among SBC, seminarian usually refers to a student at a seminary. Dr. Moore is a professor.

casual observer

June 22nd, 2011
10:29 am

I don’t get it?!!! What don’t you people understand? We as citizens of this country (and state) can no longer afford Illegal’s!! Yes there was a time when it wasn’t a big deal. Yes they were sort of a shadow society. NOW! Times are much different. We are broke, and in debt. We shouldn’t ask the hardworking, barely making ends meet, family in this country to send their tax dollar to Washington or Atlanta to be redistributed to an entitlement program that gives FREE services to people that entered this country illegally. I for the life of me don’t understand how that is not understood?

Kamchak

June 22nd, 2011
10:31 am

Where is her editorial actually calling on her fellow liberals to do something?

So glad you asked, sport.

This is an excerpt from an editorial our hostess penned in 2007: (emphasis, mine)

…here’s some counterintuitive advice for the Democratic ranks: Don’t hedge. Lead. Do the right thing. Come out clearly and forcefully for putting illegal immigrants already in the country on a path to citizenship. This is no time to trim or triangulate. Show some spine. America is ready for reasoned leadership on this issue.

…So let the GOP be the party of fear and division. Democrats ought to stand for something else. The modern Democratic Party also made its choice in the 1960s, choosing hope over fear, tolerance over division and the beloved community over bigotry.

…This is no time for Democrats to turn their backs on that heritage. America is too generous and compassionate to expel millions of productive and otherwise law-abiding people. The nation has taken advantage of their labor for decades, and it would be inhumane (and outrageously expensive) to round them up and send them back.

But Americans also want to be assured that this is the last time a broad legalization option is offered to illegal immigrants. Democrats ought to make it clear that they’ll enforce the borders and crack down on employers who hire illegally, a cheaper and more effective strategy for addressing the problem than building fences. After a few CEOs have done the perp walk for illegal hiring, they’ll stop offering jobs to those without proper documents. And when word gets across the border that U.S. companies have stopped hiring, those laborers will stop coming. They come for jobs, after all, not jihad.

This is a win-win platform. Not only is it wise and honorable, calling on the highest ideals of a nation of immigrants, it can also produce victories at the ballot box. Last week, Virginia Democrats made gains in state and local elections even though the state has been embroiled in fiery debate over illegal immigration. As an analysis by the Washington Post concluded, voting trends didn’t benefit “those who campaigned the loudest for tough sanctions against illegal immigrants.”

Let Republicans take the low road. It doesn’t end in a place the rest of the country wants to go.

Rod

June 22nd, 2011
10:32 am

Cynthia – the SBC DOES NOT speak for all Baptists. They are becoming more and more isolated, which is why more Baptists are now chosing to be represented by CBF – The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Their headquarters are located in Atlanta – you should contact them.

Jimmy62

June 22nd, 2011
10:36 am

Damn, Cynthia once again shows her complete inability to understand simple concepts. Personally I love immigrants, just not criminals. And the word immigrant does not imply anything about race, yet Cynthia chooses to make it about race. Did you know that there are white people that live in other countries and sometimes move to the US, too? And the ones that do it illegally are just as bad as Mexicans who sneak in here. And the ones that follow legal procedures are more than welcome in this country.

Why is everything about race to you? When you will stop looking at everyone’s color and pay attention to their actions? A person is in Georgia, it doesn’t matter their color, but it does matter if they are here legally, or if they broke the law and snuck in.

Take your racist bs back to DC, and we will continue treating criminals as criminals and non-criminals as non-criminals, no matter their color.

luangtom

June 22nd, 2011
10:40 am

Churches are run like governments, with inprecise wording in their documents so as to confuse those reading them. The say-nothing documents cited are the same as government documents. They say very little with credence and do much to confuse.

It is quite apparent that the Baptist Conference does not wish to upset the illegals that are here, nor do they wish to upset their members, so they create a confusing document in hopes of appeasing both sides. Typical of our current politically correct culture, both in church and government. Until the Federal government gains some credibility and gives the country an over-haul of its immigration laws, we will forever be in a state of limbo with political and religious say-nothing. Sides will be adamant in their convictions and sides will take to the streets to expound their stand and their wisdom, but nothing will be accomplished by this and nothing will change until a firm change and stand is taken by a vote-seeking government and legislature.