As presidential hopefuls make their way through the communities of northwest Iowa, I invite the candidates into conversation with area clergy on a matter we believe is important to faithful followers of Jesus. My colleagues include Rev. John Lee (Bethel Christian Reformed, Sioux Center), Rev. Travis Else (First Reformed, Sioux Center) and Rev. Giannni Gracia (former pastor of Amistad Christiana, Sioux Center).
Many national political observers believe that candidates, if they are to win with conservative evangelicals in Iowa, must pivot toward harsh policies and dehumanizing rhetoric regarding immigrants and immigration reform. This simply is not true.
We are conservative. We are evangelical. We believe it is time for a new approach. We are looking for a presidential leader who values all life, including the biblical mandate to welcome and love immigrants.
We are not alone. A new poll by Lifeway Research finds that seven in 10 evangelical Christians support immigration reforms including both secured borders and an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Half of evangelical voters say they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who championed these policies, while only 15 percent would be less likely to support a pro-immigration reform candidate.
In our pews every week are people with stories of lives adversely impacted by current policies. There are families torn apart by deportation. There are employers trying to comply with the law but longing for it to change. These business leaders love their immigrant employees and value their contribution to our workforce and the fabric of our communities.
We believe the Bible offers significant wisdom on this issue. There are more than 100 references in Scripture to those who are aliens, strangers and immigrants. In the Old Testament, these persons are often listed alongside widows and orphans as those for whom God’s people are commanded to especially care. Jesus, by his example, was disarmingly hospitable to all. And the Apostle Paul reminded the church that we are not Jew and Gentile, slave and free, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus.
We do believe that Scripture calls us to honor the rule of law. But our current unenforceable immigration system, rather than honoring the rule of law, mocks it. No president (past or present) and no current candidate has a serious plan to deport 11 million people. That action would enforce the law but wreak havoc on our economy and lives. We need a just law that recognizes borders while creating a path to legal status for qualified individuals within our borders.
To that end, we support The Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, which calls for respect of the rule of law, secure borders, and recognizes the dignity of each person, keeping families together as much as possible, and offers a path toward legal status. This seems like a logical, wise and biblical middle way between mass deportation and blanket amnesty.
We invite you to conversation with us, to tune out the national media voices and listen to the real voices of real Iowans.
The Rev. Jon Opgenorth is senior pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.