Immigration ‘personal,’ Baptist leader says

Barrett Duke of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission says that after baptizing immigrants and welcoming them into their churches, evangelicals have a harder time believing they should be deported.

By Bob Allen

A Southern Baptist Convention official says evangelicals are galvanizing around immigration reform because increasingly if affects someone they know.

“A primary motivating factor for us is this has become personal for us,” Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Oct. 29 in a panel discussion before 600 national leaders who converged on Washington to lobby Congress to pass immigration reform.

Barrett duke“Evangelicals … share the gospel with anyone who will stand still long enough to have a conversation with them,” Duke quipped, “and of course many of those folks end up trusting Christ as savior.”

“We tell them: ‘Now that you’ve come to know the Lord, you should join a church; you should be baptized and join the church.’ So many of them follow that path and now they are members of our churches.”

“What are we going to do?” Duke queried. “Are we going to say now that you‘ve done all that and you’ve joined our church it’s time to leave? It’s not going to happen.”

“These folks have now become part of our congregations,” he said. “We recognize that they are good people. They are strong, family oriented people. They are hardworking people. These are folks who are contributing to our society and to our culture. They’re people that we know.

“They’re our friends and our neighbors now, and we believe there is a better way to treat them than they are being treated right now. So evangelicals in large measure are now calling for an immigration reform that will treat them with the dignity that they deserve.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, with 16 million members the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics, passed a resolution in 2011 calling for immigration reform that includes “a just and compassionate path to legal status.”

“This resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant,” the resolution specified.

Duke and other panelists said there is no way to reform America’s broken immigration system without figuring out what to do with an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Duke compared it to recognizing that the U.S. no longer imposes the death penalty on children.

“We don’t execute young teenagers any more in this country for certain criminal violations,” he said. “At some point our country said, you know it’s really not appropriate to be executing young teenagers, and we created a different set of punishment or penalties for crimes they committed, when at one time, even in this nation, we might have executed them.”

“I don’t think anybody in this country would say that now that we’re not executing those teenagers for things that we would have executed them for before that all of a sudden we are giving all of them amnesty,” Duke said. “We simply created a different set of penalties or a different kind of punishment for the offense.”

“That’s all we’re asking for here,” Duke said, “that we recognize that we are in currently an essentially impossible situation given what is required by law, and we’re simply saying let’s create a different set of penalties for this very complex situation so that we can move on and respect the rule of law, but also respect the dignity of these 11 million people who are caught themselves in an impossible circumstance.”

In town for an event sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform network, FWD.US, the California Strawberry Commission and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Duke said there is presently a window of opportunity to enact immigration reform, because most of the proposals before Congress have already ironed out many of the major differences.

“We’re not talking about amnesty; we’re not talking about mass deportation,” he said. “We’re in this narrow range that most people can agree on. Now is the time to get this done, not later. We’re almost there. Congress just needs to finish the job it’s already started.”