A Baptist ethicist asked how faith leaders would respond to a U.S. federal judge halting President Obama’s executive order on immigration.
“Will they hide behind legal complexity? Give moral critique? Do biblical ed[ucation]?” Robert Parham, executive editor at EthicsDaily.com, asked in a Feb. 17 tweet.
Silence was the predominant response.
Late Monday evening, a U.S. federal judge in Texas issued a ruling to stop President Obama’s executive action on immigration from starting on Wednesday.
Although Christian leaders have given much attention to immigration reform in recent years, and many responded to Obama’s announcement in November 2014, Monday’s ruling sparked little attention despite its potential implications for millions of people.
Christian leaders who both praised and criticized Obama’s executive actions mostly ignored the ruling, focusing instead on debates about ISIS and same-sex marriage.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a graduate of Baylor Law School and nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, suspended Obama’s immigration program pending court challenges.
The procedural ruling means the program will likely remain unimplemented until federal courts rule on its constitutionality.
Key Southern Baptist leaders remained silent on the ruling and its moral implications. Baptist Press ignored it, as did Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore.
Moore previously attacked Obama’s executive actions as “an unwise and counterproductive move.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued an even harsher critique last November.
He called Obama’s immigration action “an executive branch overreach” and “an overreach of Presidential power that truly endangers the separation of powers that is at the heart of our constitutional form of government.”
Like Moore, Mohler did not offer public comment on this week’s federal court ruling.
Two days before the ruling, David Platt, president of the SBC’s International Mission Board, discussed immigration reform with a local radio station.
“The core commands of Jesus are love God and love your neighbor as yourself and we’re talking about our neighbors. That starts with a respect and an honor for the dignity of people around us who are from other countries who have immigrated to the United States legally or illegally,” he said.
“There are complicated issues that you and I both know, but there are biblical foundations that I know Christians have a tendency to bypass in jumping to a political position,” Platt added.
He made no comments following Monday’s court decision.
Other Baptist leaders, like Suzii Paynter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Roy Medley of the American Baptist Churches USA, also remained silent on the ruling.
Meanwhile, Parham tweeted several times about the decision, noting that 743,000 immigrants would now face deportation.
Commenting on Parham’s tweet, Ferrell Foster, director of ethics and justice at the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission, said, “With the legal questions, it seems reasonable to let the courts sort this out first.”
The judge’s ruling “doesn’t halt moral imperative [to] treat undocumented [with] kindness,” Parham commented later.
While the ruling late on Monday evening sparked less attention from politicians and religious leaders than Obama’s executive orders, some Christian leaders did address the court finding.
Matt Staver, chairman of Liberty Council and dean of Liberty University School of Law, praised the judge’s ruling.
Staver insisted Obama had “no authority on this issue.” However, Staver framed his comments as “[f]rom a legal standpoint” and did not address moral implications of the order on immigrants.
The National Catholic Reporter quoted several Catholic leaders who responded to the court’s decision.
Patricia McDermott, president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, commented, “Without this executive action, 150,000 children annually would continue to lose a parent to deportation.”
Jeanne M. Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, expressed concern that the ruling would be “confusing, frightening, and discouraging eligible immigrants” from seeking citizenship or work visas.
Despite the limited attention given by faith leaders to the ruling, the court action guarantees immigration will remain a contentious public issue.
As additional court rulings come in the future – and perhaps even additional presidential or congressional actions – the issue of immigration will continue to arise.
The EthicsDaily.com documentary “Gospel Without Borders” explores the important topic of immigration from a biblical perspective.
The film also debunks common myths about undocumented immigrants, including some used recently by Obama and Hanen. The film is designed to help churches consider critical issues in an informed and civil manner.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.