Evangelicals split over immigration bill | www.myajc.com


Evangelicals split over immigration bill | www.myajc.com

Evangelicals from Georgia and across the nation are clashing over the sweeping immigration bill now pending in Congress, revealing deep divisions among them on the hot-button issue as the Senate legislation moves to the House.

The two sides — who help form a key part of the Republican conservative base — differ in their interpretations of the Bible and are relying on church sermons, prayers and letter-writing campaigns to make their cases.

One group calling itself the Evangelical Immigration Table has endorsed Senate Bill 744, legislation that would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. Several Georgia church leaders — including two former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention — have signed this group’s statement of principles, which also calls for respecting the rule of law and securing the nation’s borders.

Meanwhile, another movement — Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration — has issued an open letter calling on Congress to scrap the legislation and start over, saying it is “flawed to the point of being unworkable.” The letter criticizes the Evangelical Immigration Table’s links to billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a major backer of liberal causes.

Clergy from both groups have been pressuring congressmen over the immigration legislation in recent weeks. The Senate approved the measure Thursday by a 68-32 vote, and it is now pending in the House. But House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that his chamber won’t take up the comprehensive bill. The Republican-led House has so far opted to consider smaller individual bills for overhauling the immigration system.

To support a bipartisan immigration overhaul, the Evangelical Immigration Table has held prayer gatherings near the U.S. Capitol and in many states and announced a $250,000 media ad campaign last month. One of the radio ads features Cynthia Hale, the senior pastor at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur. In May, the group sent a letter to Congress endorsing the Senate legislation as a “good faith, bipartisan effort that largely upholds our principles.”

At the same time, some Baptist leaders in the South who dismiss the bill as “amnesty” for lawbreakers have been calling and writing their congressmen, urging them to vote no.

Evangelicals are nearly evenly divided on the issue, according to a telephone poll of 4,465 adults conducted this year by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. The survey shows 56 percent of white evangelical Protestants support giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

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