TX pastors call for immigration overhaul
HOUSTON (BP)--Several Houston-area Southern Baptist pastors are among the signers of a declaration calling for secure borders and a compassionate and just overhaul of the federal immigration system.
The Houston-based U.S. Pastor Council's "Pastors' Declaration on Border Security and Immigration Reform" calls for "principled leadership and the laying aside of partisan politics" to address illegal immigration and border security "rapidly, justly and humanely with equal regard" to the law and to the "God-given value of every individual."
"Holy Scriptures demand that justice and compassion be balanced with neither improperly dominant over the other in our hearts and our laws," the declaration states on its website at immigrationdeclaration.org.
The declaration calls for the crisis to be addressed in three successive steps -- border security, immigration system reform, and a "just process to legal status for specified illegal immigrants."
It also calls state and national elected officials to end "political posturing and bickering" and begin "genuine dialogue" to find "real solutions to this crisis."
As of Aug. 24, more than 350 ministers from a variety of denominations had signed the declaration.
David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston and one of the declaration's signers, said his congregation has a "very large Hispanic population" that is likely sympathetic to illegal residents as well those who vocally support Arizona-style enforcement of immigration laws.
In Scripture, Fleming said he finds support for a "just and compassionate solution" that holds the rule of law and compassion for strangers "in tension."
He told of his heartbreak in learning about a beloved church employee who let his work visa expire and never renewed it, leaving the church in a dilemma.
"Remember that God is concerned with the rule of law, and God is concerned with the alien and stranger among us," Fleming said.
The declaration is crucial because the outside world assumes conservative Christians will take a hard-line approach because of secular political leanings, said Fleming, citing a Houston Chronicle article that quoted a state senator and a conservative activist as charging that some evangelical conservatives had been "co-opted" by liberals on the immigration issue and faced losing the White House and possibly their congregations if they didn't wise up.
"We cannot let others speak for us; we have to speak for ourselves. We have to speak for the Lord.... Otherwise, we will be painted with a broad brush with folks we don't necessarily want to be associated with," Fleming said.
David Fannin, pastor of Nassau Bay Baptist Church in suburban Houston and a longtime member of the Pastor Council, said the group thought "it was important for us to make a statement regarding where the country is and where we need to go," with the first step a secure national border.
On reforming the immigration process, Fannin said, "There's a lot of low quotas on highly skilled workers and very open quotas on lower-skilled workers and we felt that inequity needed to be addressed."
Also, Fannin said, those who are here illegally but who have worked and otherwise obeyed the laws should be dealt with differently than those illegal immigrants who commit crimes while here.
"We've been very clear that those who have been involved in crimes, they needed to be denied any kind of legal status and that non-citizens should not be receiving non-emergency entitlements," Fannin said. "It's almost in line with where Richard Land's statement is."
Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, Tenn., announced over the summer his support for a border-security first approach that creates a path to legal status for certain illegal immigrants.
Writing in a USA Today newspaper op-ed, Land called for reforms that "respect the God-given dignity of each person," protects the unity of the immediate family, protects the rule of law, guarantees secure national borders, ensures fairness to taxpayers, and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
"Once agreed upon metrics for a secure border have been met," Land wrote, "a plan can and should be implemented to bring the 12 million undocumented workers out of the shadows where they are too often exploited and preyed upon by unscrupulous employers and other societal predators."
Land called it immoral that the government would "ignore its own laws for more than two decades and then one day the government says, 'Now we are going to enforce the law retroactively.'"
Likening his approach to the term "compassionate conservative," Fannin said his conservatism notwithstanding, "there's also some ways in which that means you just can't be hard-fast.
"If I was in Mexico and the only way I could help my family was to get a job where I could find one, I'm not so sure I wouldn't do some of the same things, basically, to get food for my family. I understand some of that," Fannin said. "But at the same time, I don't think we can just carte blanche let anybody and everybody come into this country and tap into our resources. I think the statement's pretty clear that we are not just carte blanche making all the illegal immigrants legal. The statement is pretty strong on how exactly that process ought to be and what should be done."
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at www.texanonline.net.