Christian leaders – representing the broadest expression of American Christianity – have agreed on a five-point statement calling for immigration reform.
Catholic, Pentecostal, Orthodox and Mainline Protestant bishops were joined by evangelical ministers, social justice leaders and an array of other clergy at the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together, held last week in Austin, Texas.

They issued a profoundly biblical statement that spoke from an authentically Christian perspective to the spiritual and humanitarian issue of immigration reform.

Their document avoided the pitfalls of other Christian statements that sound more political than moral, statements that play to the negative and untruthful narratives voiced by both political parties.

“We acknowledge that members of our own faith communities have been complicit in the establishment and reinforcement of our current system through active political engagement and apathetic inaction,” read the statement. “As a moral matter, we cannot tolerate an immigration system that exploits migrants, is inhospitable, and fails to offer immigrants the full protection of the law.”

The statement said, “Each day in our congregations and communities, we bear witness to the effects of a system that continues this legacy of separation of families and the exploitation, abuse, and deaths of migrants. This suffering must end.”

The documented called on elected officials to pursue reform based on five principles:

â—      Pathway to citizenship. Undocumented individuals “should be given an opportunity to earn citizenship.”

â—      Family reunification. The cornerstone of U.S. policy should be reunification of families.

â—      Enforcement and due process. The nation has the right to defend its borders and the undocumented should have the right to due process.

â—      Refugees and asylum seekers. Those fleeing persecution should be given special protection.

â—      Root causes. U.S. government policies should ensure that those in other countries should be able to obtain a living wage in their home countries.

Congregational and denominational leaders would do well to read the statement and to encourage their members to review it.

The first responsibility of faith leaders is to speak morally – humanitarianly and spiritually – about the plight of the undocumented and the need for just and compassionate change.

The CCT statement does just that.

Faith leaders need not compromise their moral perspective on immigration by accepting the framing and conditions offered by politicians with their history of duplicity and self-interest. Political agendas and faith agendas are not the same agendas.

The Hebrew prophet Amos said God’s agenda was for justice to irrigate the land. He didn’t confuse God’s agenda with the king’s agenda. He set a high moral standard and left the details for the irrigation system to the king.

Our task is to spell out guiding moral principles and to encourage government leaders to pursue them – all with a watchful eye and an organizing hand.

Albeit secondary in importance to CCT’s statement on immigration, I was encouraged by both the attendance at and response to the screening of our documentary at the meeting of “Gospel Without Borders.”

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Austin was complementary of the documentary, as were others on staff with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Church of God, Church of the Brethren, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Reformed Church of America, Mennonite Church-USA and Evangelical Covenant Church leaders all expressed interest in ordering the documentary “in-bulk” at minimal costs to share with their churches.

I hope these houses of faith and others will use “Gospel Without Borders,” a documentary that tells five stories of what Christians are doing to address the issue and does not advocate a specific legislative remedy to the broken system.

While I support the overdue federal reform of the immigration law, I think I am also realistic about the sharp differences between legal reform and social reform.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racial segregation in schools and outlawed racial discrimination in our society.

But it didn’t end racial prejudice. It didn’t create racial reconciliation in our society. It didn’t foster a change of attitudes and practices in our churches.

Indeed, we’re still struggling toward more authentic and constructive racial engagement in the faith community.

So, what makes us think federal immigration reform will birth a righteous society?

We’ve got a lot of work to do. “Gospel Without Borders” is an important moral tool in that work. CCT’s statement is another one.

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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