Posted on 26 April 2013.
Teachers lead a music class at the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church in the Bronx, Apr. 20, 2013. Some observers say growing Latino churches are the future of Evangelical Christianity. (Sonia Paul/Uptown Radio)
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HOST: Some Evangelical Christians have embraced comprehensive immigration reform in recent months. It’s a huge shift for the group, usually conservative in its politics. An influx of Latino congregants has pushed the church into changing its stance. Sonia Paul reports.
It was a week and a half ago, the day the Senate released its eight hundred and forty-four page draft bill for comprehensive immigration reform.
[AMBI: Rev. Salguero singing at the worship service in DC. [Let rise and play for seven seconds, then fade under and float under narration.]
Just blocks away from the Capital, at the Church of Reformation, an audience was singing a closing hymn . A giant screen at the front showed the people who came to preach and perform. They were clapping their hands and stomping their feet.
[Bring up more ambi.]
Latinos, Blacks, and a few Asians. But most of them appeared to be white.
They were Evangelical Christians. And they came here from all over the country to lobby Congress on immigration reform.
[LET AMBI RISE UP A LITTLE BIT FOR A FEW MORE SECONDS, THEN FADE DOWN]
They were calling the day a National Day of Prayer and Action on immigration. A group that calls itself the Evangelical Immigration Table organized the event.
[Fade out AMBI HERE]
Evangelicals aren’t the most likely supporters of immigration reform. Take Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee. In the Republican presidential primaries in 2008, he advocated strict controls.
ACT: MIKE HUCKABEE AUDIO
What we need to do is have a border that is sealed, and the same kind of process that we have if we go through a stadium — we go in one at a time, and we have a ticket.
His views were mainstream Republican at the time. Pew research Center reports show white Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported the Republican party in the last three presidential elections. But now, residents in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida — all conservative states — can hear ads like this one coming through their airwaves.
ACT: FLORIDA AD AUDIO
But our dysfunctional immigration system breaks up families and causes suffering. Christ calls all of us to compassion and justice.
That focus on compassion and justice is the selling point of the two-year-old Evangelical Immigration Table. It’s an umbrella organization for several Evangelical and social justice groups in support of immigration reform.
Evangelical pastor Gabriel Salguero chairs the group. He’s the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. In January, under his leadership, the Evangelical Immigration Table developed a bold message on immigration.
ACT: SALGUERO PRAYER CHALLENGE
We worked on a campaign called I was a Stranger. And we engaged just hundreds of Evangelical churches and tens of thousands of Evangelical Christians to read the bible and pray.
The Table put out radio ads in areas with large Evangelical populations — and released YouTube ads, like this one, of prominent Evangelical leaders reciting a well-known verse from the Book of Michael.
ACT: I WAS A STRANGER CAMPAIGN AUDIO
For I was a stranger, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.
I was a stranger.
I was a stranger.
I was a stranger.
I was a stranger. And you invited me in.
I needed clothes, and you clothed me.
[AMBI FROM OUTSIDE THE DC CHURCH]
Back in Washington, people outside the Church of Reformation are saying their goodbyes after a long day of lobbying on immigration. Others inside the church are still singing.
David Beckmann is a white Lutheran pastor and economist. He says it’s about time Christians unite for immigration reform — because the connection between the bible and the public policy issue is clear.
ACT: BECKMAN BIBLE MESSAGE
Cause the bible over and over again talks about doing right, being kind to widows, orphans and immigrants. Duh! (laughs). Cause immigrants are always kind of shuddered aside, they don’t ever have full rights.
But it’s not just biblical passages reminding Evangelicals of their call to duty. Reports indicate there are now nearly eight million Hispanic Evangelicals in the United States. That’s about 15 percent of the overall Evangelical population.
[AMBI OF MUSIC CLASS]
At the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church in New York, Latinos are the majority of students at the church’s weekend music class. They make up practically the entire church population.
ACT: MORELBA BRONX CHURCH POPULATION
There are people Dominican, Puerto Rican, from Hondorus, Ecuadorian…
That’s eighteen year old Morelba Fernandez. She’s at her church in the Bronx most days of the week, leading the youth ministry or assisting the music classes.
[AMBI OF MUSIC CLASS]
Or, advocating for immigration reform.
We also go to marches about immigration, like the Dream Act. A lot of teenagers, we go, because that’s very important for us.
Some observers say growing all-Latino churches like Fernandez’s are the future of Evangelical Christianity. Their support of immigration reform is hardly surprising.
[FADE OUT AMBI OF MUSIC CLASS]
Pew research polls show over 85 percent of Hispanic evangelicals support immigration reform. In comparison, just over half of white Evangelicals support the cause.
But that’s still a big change for the white Evangelical community. A few years ago, only a quarter of them polled supported immigration.
Hi, I’m Samuel Cruz.
Samuel Cruz is a sociologist of religion at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He says the Latino Evangelical influence is the biggest reason Evangelicals are now embracing immigration.
In fact, Focus on the Family, which is one of the big conservative right-wing organizations in this country, is supporting immigration reform. And they know why they’re doing it. They’re catering to their huge constituency of Latinos within the Evangelical community.
The Senate is expected to debate the provisions of the immigration bill in coming weeks. Observers say that if Evangelicals maintain unity, they just might help tip the scale on passing immigration reform.
Sonia Paul, Columbia Radio News.