GUNTERVILLE, Ala. (ABP) –- An Alabama Baptist Convention spokesman explained why Baptist churches aren’t joining Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics and others in protesting the state’s anti-illegal immigration law.
“I don’t have the right to speak for the Baptists, because they haven’t passed a resolution,” Joe Bob Mizzell, director of the office of Christian ethics for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said at a Marshall Baptist Association meeting on Sept. 20.
The Reporter in Sand Mountain, Ala., quoted the official as saying denominational leaders have worked behind the scenes to make their voices heard in the Legislature, but they don’t plan to go out and demonstrate.
“We don't plan to have rallies or anything like that because it would divide our people asunder,” Mizzell said. “We don't want to do that, but we also want to take the right position."
A federal judge blocked the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment, which was due to go into effect Sept. 1, pending the outcome of three separate lawsuits claiming it is unconstitutional. One was filed by religious leaders who said it would hinder their right to minister.
Mizzell said he believes churches are protected by a state constitutional amendment that says governments cannot burden religious exercise without a compelling reason. While not an official position, Mizzell said many Baptist leaders believe something needs to be done about illegal immigration.
"We believed, and still believe, that the bill was an appropriate bill that took place in the Legislature," he said. "We really have a problem in the United States now with people who are here undocumented.”
“Nobody I know of is opposed to legal immigrants coming to this country,” he said. “We all came from a background of immigrants who came to this country. The problem has reached the proportion of how many can we take?"
The Southern Baptist Convention made headlines in June by adopting a resolution calling for “a just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants. After protests during debate the statement would be perceived as “Southern Baptist amnesty,” messengers added an amendment clarifying, “This resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.