By Bob Allen
The Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman on public policy said he fears President Obama’s decision to act unilaterally on immigration policy will do more harm than good.
Writing for Time, Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the president’s action threatens what he called an emerging consensus in Congress around the need to reform the nation’s immigration system.
In a speech to the nation Nov. 20, President Obama announced executive actions to crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons and not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Obama said the decision follows a year-and-a-half of inaction by the House of Representatives on a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate.
“Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law,” Obama said. “But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”
Moore, who along with faith leaders including Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leader Suzii Paynter met in April with Obama in the Oval Office to discuss immigration, said on more than one occasion he has asked the president “not to turn immigration reform into a red state/blue state issue.”
Moore said regardless of the debate over whether the president has authority to take such actions unilaterally, “this is an unwise and counterproductive move” that threatens a “remarkable consensus” emerging on immigration policy, uniting the left and right in the business community, agriculture, law enforcement and religion.
“My hope is that the Republicans in Congress will not allow the president’s actions here to be a pretext for remaining in the rut of the status quo,” Moore said. “Too many people are harmed by this broken system, many of them our brothers and sisters in Christ. The lives of immigrant families, made in the image of God, are too important for political gamesmanship.”
“More importantly, I pray that our churches will transcend all of this posing and maneuvering that we see in Washington,” Moore continued. “Whatever our agreements and disagreements on immigration policy, we as the Body of Christ are those who see every human life as reflecting the image of God. Immigrant communities are a great blessing not only to this country, but to our churches. Many of the most anointed churches in evangelism and ministry are led by immigrants to this country.”
Some faith leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, applauded the president’s action.
“We’ve been on record asking the administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary Catholic bishop of Seattle and chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration. “As pastors, we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”
Jim Wallis of Sojourners credited Obama with “putting people before politics.”
“Tonight, faith leaders and all those who have spent years trying to fix our broken immigration system should feel gratitude toward President Obama,” Wallis said.
David Beckmann of Bread for the World applauded the president’s “decision to craft improvements within his authority to our confused and unnecessarily harsh immigration system.”
“Our support of the president’s action is not about partisan politics,” Beckmann said. “It’s about millions of families who will have some respite from worry and new opportunities to work their way out of poverty. It is about our faith; the Bible is clear on how we should treat immigrants. It is one piece of our commitment to opportunity for all people.”
In 2011 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution asking government leaders “to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.”
It went on to specify that “this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said long-term the biggest impact of Obama’s decision will likely not be on immigration but “the rule of law and our constitutional form of government.”
“What President Obama did last night was an executive branch overreach,” Mohler said in his daily podcast news briefing Nov. 21, “an overreach of presidential power that truly endangers the separation of powers that is at the heart of our constitutional form of government.”