PHOENIX (ABP) – The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a debated resolution June 15 calling for “a just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants.
President Obama supports immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people who are living in the country illegally. Opponents say amnesty encourages others to enter the United States illegally and compete for American jobs.
“This will be known as Southern Baptist amnesty,” said Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif.
“That is exactly what this is,” said Drake, a former convention vice president. “This is amnesty any way you phrase it.”
Messengers voted 766-723 against a motion by Richard Huff, pastor of Corona de Tucson Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz., to delete a paragraph that asks the government “to implement, with borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.”
Huff said he agreed with other parts of the resolution that opposed “nativism” and any bigotry or harassment against undocumented workers, but giving them amnesty rewards them for breaking the law and puts them in line ahead of those seeking citizenship through legal means.
“They came here illegally and now we say: ‘We are going to reward you. You are already here?’” Huff asked. “The right of citizenship is too precious to reward those who are here illegally.”
After the debate, the convention approved an amendment suggested by the resolutions committee to clarify, “This resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”
Resolutions committee chair Paul Jimenez, pastor of First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C., defended the statement as a “realistic and biblical approach to immigration.”
While recognizing there are political implications, Jimenez said the committee’s main concern was viewing undocumented workers as prospects for evangelism and ministry.
“As churches see immigrants here among us, our first question is not ‘What is their legal status?’” he said. “The question first and foremost is ‘What is their gospel status?’”