Today, President Obama is expected to reveal his plans for reforming our current immigration system--plans that most expect will be controversial. If you want to stoke emotions and heat up a conversation, you need only mention the subject of illegal immigration and step back. The sparks are certain to fly!
In the wake of this latest round of tense discussion over this issue, the folks at Lifeway released a survey that shows pastors significantly support some form of immigration reform. For many pastors, this is now no longer an impersonal issue, because many are starting to see the way it personally affects people they now know. I've discussed at length before why I believe our current system demands significant reform, but regardless of your position on this issue, followers of Jesus should be responding to immigration first on the basis of our Kingdom calling.
The nations are quite literally next door. In the last decade, the foreign-born population of the United States has grown by almost 9 million. One of four children in our country has at least one parent who was not born here, and there are over 800,000 international students currently attending Universities and graduate schools in the United States. Today, chances are when the subject of immigration is raised, most pastors now have at least one face and one name attached to the issue. Wherever you are politically on this subject, if you are a follower of Jesus, you believe these people to be image-bearers of God that Jesus died to save. We also believe that in the providence of God, these individuals have come to our shores and that like anyone else in our proximity, it is our responsibility to see that they hear of Jesus.
A friend shared recently of a young Pakistani man who came to the United States a few years back to study at a University in the upper midwest. He came over with two suitcases full of hospitality gifts, as it is a custom in his country to present a gift of appreciation for anyone who invites you to their home. Four years later, he completed his degree and returned to Pakistan--with both of those suitcases still full.
In four years, this young man had never been invited into an American home!
How many have come to our nation, and gone back to their own, without ever once hearing the Gospel? For how many is this the reason because Christians were more concerned about their legal status than their eternal destiny? Let's let the President, Congress, and INS answer for whether or not they are doing their job. Followers of Jesus have a different one.
By Bob Smietana
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The nation’s Protestant senior pastors want the U.S. government to mix justice with mercy when it comes to immigration reform.
Most say it's the government’s job to stop people from entering the country illegally.
They also support reform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
And they believe Christians should help immigrants, no matter what their legal status.
Those are among the findings of a new survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The survey was conducted prior to the mid-term elections.
Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said pastors don’t approve of illegal immigration. But they want to help illegal immigrants make things right.
“This is one of many cases in which Christians can look at those around them and say, ‘I don’t agree with what got you to this place in life, but I will love you while you are here,’” says McConnell.
Nearly 6 in 10 of Protestant senior pastors (58 percent) agree with the statement: “I am in favor of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for those who are currently in the country illegally.” About a third (34 percent) disagree. Seven percent are not sure.
Most African-American pastors (80 percent) agree, as do a majority of white pastors (59 percent). Two-thirds (68 percent) of mainline pastors and more than half (54 percent) of evangelical pastors also favor a path to citizenship.
Pastors of mid-sized churches are more likely to agree than those from small churches. Two-thirds (66 percent) of pastors of churches with between 100 and 249 attenders agree. About half (54 percent) of pastors with less than 50 people in their congregation agree.
Two-thirds (63 percent) of pastors under age 45 favor a pathway, as do a little over half (55 percent) of those ages 45-54.
Churches want to lend a hand
LifeWay Research also found pastors want to help their immigrant neighbors, no matter what their legal status.
Caring for immigrants can be “an opportunity to show people who Jesus is,” said McConnell.
About half (47 percent) of Protestant senior pastors say their church currently helps immigrants.
And most (79 percent) agree with the statement: “Christians have a responsibility to assist immigrants, even if they are in the country illegally.” One in 6 (17 percent) disagree.
More than three quarters of evangelical pastors (77 percent) and most mainline pastors (86 percent) agree. Most pastors under 45 (83 percent) and those in churches with 100 or more attenders (82 percent) agree.
The new study parallels the findings of a 2013 LifeWay Research survey.
In that poll, 58 percent of pastors supported immigration reform. And about half (51 percent) said reform would help their church or denomination reach Hispanic Americans.
Other recent polling found that people in the pews have similar views to their pastors on the issue of immigration reform.
A 2014 Pew Research poll found that about two-third of Protestants (69 percent) support reform that would allow undocumented immigrant to stay in the country if they meet certain conditions. Three-quarters of Catholics (77 percent) also support reform.
Pew also found that less than half of Protestants (46 percent) say it is important that reform happens this year.
Pastors want the government to do its job
Protestant pastors of all kinds want the government to do a better job preventing people from entering the country illegally.
Almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) agree with the statement: “The U.S. government has the responsibility to stop illegal immigration.”
Most evangelical (91 percent) and mainline pastors (82 percent) agree. Pastors in the Midwest (38 percent) are less likely to agree than pastors in the South (89 percent) and West (90 percent). Pastors under age 45 are less likely to agree (82 percent).
“Justice, love, and mercy are all intrinsic to the Christian faith,” said McConnell. “It appears pastors see the need to end illegal immigration as an issue of justice. They also want to show love and mercy while the legal problem is addressed.”
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The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 11-18, 2014. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.