Notebook > Religion

Border showdown

Religion | Christian leaders split on immigration reform

Issue: "Don't run, Newt," April 14, 2007

Some evangelicals have joined hands with other religious leaders and a bipartisan congressional alliance, including Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), to push for immigration reform as "a moral necessity."

At a Washington news conference on March 29, Southern Baptist ethicist and staunch conservative Richard Land declared the nation has "a biblical mandate to act compassionately [toward] hard-working and otherwise law-abiding immigrants." He later said that Congress had yet to devise a plan he could support-one that both secures the border and deals realistically with illegal immigrants already here.

Congress is split: The Senate favors granting citizenship to millions of illegals (as does President Bush); the House is largely opposed. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, favors a path to citizenship for illegals and says his members are contacting 40 House Republicans who traditionally depend on the evangelical vote.

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Many evangelicals side with the House. If members of the Christian Coalition took a vote, they would favor requiring illegals to go home before applying for citizenship, its leaders say. Coalition head Roberta Combs believes it is a sin "to ignore or disrespect national boundaries."

Catholics also are divided. With Hispanics representing more than a third of the 65-million-member Catholic Church-its fastest growing segment-the hierarchy takes strong stands on immigrant rights.

However, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), a Catholic who chairs the Immigration Reform Caucus in the House, opposes legalization for illegal immigrants. He said he believes in forgiveness, "but when it comes to our national sovereignty, rewarding people for breaking the law is a sin in my opinion."

Notice served

A majority of bishops in The Episcopal Church (TEC) last month took action that could get their 2.3-million-member denomination booted out of the global Anglican family. They rejected a plan of "alternative" oversight proposed by top leaders of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion. It would provide conservatives in TEC a safety zone from oppressiveness and doctrinal aberrations by liberals. The bishops said the plan would violate church polity and result in permanent division.

They left the door open for a counter-proposal, but they also issued a strong statement of support for gays in the church. The bishop and TEC's executive council face a Sept. 30 deadline that includes clearly stating the church will ban same-sex blessings and consecration of noncelibate gay bishops.

Bulletin Board

CONGRESS: The Congressional Prayer Caucus, formed in 2005 by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and made up of 38 lawmakers from both parties, is asking people to pray for five minutes weekly for America. At the group's website, prayercaucus.org, respondents can sign up for a five-minute block of time. The goal is to have Americans praying for their country 24 hours a day. "We hope that God will hear our prayers and heal our land," said Forbes.

CHINA: Interest in Christianity among Chinese intellectuals is transforming the country's religious landscape, says Edmond Tang, a scholar and consultant on China for British and Irish churches. "Christian fellowships, a new kind of 'house church' run by Chinese professors and students, are active in most Chinese universities," he notes. More than 30 academic faculties and research centers in China are now dedicated to the study of a "once maligned religion," he says, up from only three a few years ago.

BRITAIN: The British parliament last month passed a law forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Although exceptions are made for churches and other religious organizations, they don't apply to groups under contract with the government to provide services such as adoption and private education. Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor says Catholic adoption agencies are prepared to close rather than place children with homosexual

couples.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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