By Bob Smietana
American evangelicals want immigrant families to be kept together.
They want lawmakers to fix the immigration system.
And they want the government to respect the God-given dignity of immigrants, according to past studies by Lifeway Research.
So it’s no surprise that evangelicals like Alan Cross have been so critical of the Department of Justice’s policy of separating children from their families at the border.
That policy is a “moral and political crisis,” says Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor and author. And the voices of Christians and their pastors are needed to solve this crisis, he says.
“We can speak biblically and prophetically,” says Cross. He’s in Washington, D.C, this week, working with other Christian leaders on immigration issues.
Close to 2,000 children have been separated from their families and taken into custody over the past six weeks, according to published reports.
The separations are part of a “zero tolerance” policy announced by the Department of Justice earlier this year. The Gospel Coalition has put together an explainer with details of the policy.
“I have ordered each United States attorney’s office along the southwest border to have a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry. Our goal is to prosecute every case that is brought to us. There must be consequences for illegal action,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in announcing the policy.
Evangelical Christian leaders sent the president a letter earlier this month, asking him to end the policy of separating families.
“As evangelical Christians guided by the Bible, one of our core convictions is that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” they wrote.
“The state should separate families only in the rarest of instances.”
At their annual meeting last week, Southern Baptists approved a resolution calling for “just, humane, efficient, and orderly” immigration reform and condemning any mistreatment of immigrants. The resolution also affirmed that children should stay with their parents.
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was more blunt. He called the policy a “scandal.”
“The bottom line on the policy is this,” he said on his podcast and Twitter feed. “It is inhumane. … Americans should not put up with this policy. It is a scandal.”
Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said of the “zero tolerance” policy: “Texas evangelicals do not want this done in our name. To tear small children from their parents is absolutely heartbreaking, and it is not legally necessary. We can do better as a nation.”
World Vision, one of the largest evangelical nonprofits in the world, also condemned the policy, saying it caused harm to children.
“The single most important relationship for all children, especially those at risk of violence or in high-stress situations, is that of a parent,” World Vision said in a statement.
“Separating children from their parents can have a devastating long-term effect on children’s mental, physical, and emotional development.”
Sorting out a response
Many American evangelicals want to hear more about the Bible’s views on immigration. About half said they want to learn more from the Bible about this issue, according to a 2015 Lifeway Research poll.
But few churches talk about this issue. And two-thirds of evangelicals said their church has never encouraged them to reach out to immigrants.
As a result, most evangelicals are left on their own to sort out a response to immigration.
So they turn to the media (16 percent), friends and family (16 percent), or their immigrant friends for guidance (17 percent).
Few turn to their church (2 percent) or the Bible (10 percent).
“The sad part of this research on immigration is that American evangelicals are more influenced by the media than by their Bibles and their churches combined,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, when the Lifeway Research survey was released in 2015. “We need to turn off our TVs and open up our Bibles.”
The survey also found that two-thirds of evangelicals want to see immigration reform that includes secure borders and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Most also want to protect the unity of immigrant families (72 percent) and to respect people’s God-given dignity (82 percent).
- How Can You Help Families Separated at the Border?
- The Immigration Crisis and the Great Commission
- Evangelicals to Congress: Time to Address Immigration
- Attorney General Sessions Sets Off a Wave of Bible Reading
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.