WASHINGTON (RNS)—As Congress debates immigration policy, many prominent religious leaders—from all shades of the theological spectrum—have called for a “comprehensive and compassionate” reform of existing laws. It's part of what they see as their biblical mandate to care for the stranger.
But it's unclear if their flocks in the pews agree. More than 60 percent of white evangelicals said immigrants are a “burden” to the United States because they take jobs, housing and health care, according to a 2006 poll conducted by the non-partisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Fifty-six percent of white Catholics and 51 percent of white mainline Protestants agreed, according to the survey.
John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Center, said religious leaders—particularly evangelicals and Southern Baptists—sometimes are caught between the law-and-order conservatives who fill their pews and the Latino immigrants who populate their mission fields.
“There really is a tension there. They know that many of their parishioners are skeptical—if not actively opposed” to immigration reform, Green said.
“On the other hand, this is a group that puts an imperative on evangelization.”
Sometimes ministers need to take prophet positions different than the views of their church members, said Jim Wallis, a best-selling author and head of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, a progressive Washington-based social justice group.
“Pastors and preachers aren't pollsters,” Wallis said. “You've got to love your congregation enough to preach the gospel.”
Wallis and others recently launched Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a coalition of mainline and evangelical Christians, including Church World Service, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and United Methodists' General Board of Church & Society.
A consortium of 12 faith traditions also has launched a “New Sanctuary Movement” to protect illegal immigrants in danger of deportation.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is lobbying lawmakers behind the scenes as well as pushing grass-roots efforts in about 100 dioceses, said Kevin Appleby, the bishops' director of migration and refugee services.