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May 17, 2013

Immigration Reform Becomes Hot Topic in Changing Evangelical Church

Watch Demographics Contribute to Evangelical Immigration Stance on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

As the debate over comprehensive immigration reform heats up in Congress, evangelical Christian church leaders have received attention recently for publicly advocating better policy towards undocumented immigrants.

While evangelical congregations have historically been mostly white and English-speaking, many Latino immigrants are now migrating towards these churches and away from their centuries-long home in the Catholic church. This trend has upended the demographics in some evangelical churches like Immanuel Fellowship Church in Frisco, Colo., where the congregation is now half Anglo, half Latino.

These demographic changes are prompting many in the church to rethink questions on immigration, with some congregations putting new emphasis on biblical commands to welcome the stranger.

Immanuel Fellowship Church’s Pastor Mike Phillips thinks immigration reform is a moral imperative.

“I think the church has always appreciated, yes, we need to be a champion for the orphan, for the widow,” he said. “But people are surprised when it says in the same passages the immigrant, too. And so that’s just, wow, we have a biblical responsibility.”

However, others in the church think that framing a political issue as something dictated in the Bible can be risky.

“It’s very problematic when people of faith start to claim that the Bible gives them very direct guidance on a particular contemporary political issue, because the Bible primarily is not a political platform,” said Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

But while church leaders have come out in support of immigration reform, evangelicals as a whole still trail the rest of the country in support of creating a way for undocumented workers to stay in the country.

Warm up questions

1. What do you know about the debate over immigration reform?

2. What is an undocumented immigrant?

3. How does an immigrant become a U.S. citizen?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think that faith plays an important role in American politics today? Why or why not?

2. Do you think it is ok for pastors to urge their congregations to take political action based on what they see as a Biblical imperative? Why or why not?

3. What requirements should there be for people who want to be U.S. citizens?

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