Since we left Phoenix last week, the buzz has been about the Peter Lumpkins question and Al Mohler’s response. We have dissected the exchange, analyzed them, autopsied them and elevated it to legendary status. However, if Peter had not gone to the microphone during the SBTS report, we might have spent this time talking about the resolution on immigration, which was the most pointed discussion we had at the convention.
Here is the Resolution in full for you to read, and I will have some comments below.
ON IMMIGRATION AND THE GOSPEL
WHEREAS, The Kingdom of God is made up of persons from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language (Revelation 7:9); and
WHEREAS, Our ancestors in the faith were sojourners and aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 1:1-14; 1 Chronicles 16:19; Acts 7:6); and
WHEREAS, Our Lord Jesus Christ lived His childhood years as an immigrant and refugee (Matthew 2:13-23); and
WHEREAS, The Scriptures call us, in imitation of God Himself, to show compassion and justice for the sojourner and alien among us (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Psalm 94:6; Jeremiah 7:6; Ezekiel 22:29; Zechariah 7:10); and
WHEREAS, The Great Commission compels us to take the gospel to the nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Great Commandment compels us to love our neighbor as self (Mark 12:30-31); and
WHEREAS, The gospel tells us that our response to the most vulnerable among us is a response to Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:40); and
WHEREAS, The Bible denounces the exploitation of workers and the mistreatment of the poor (Isaiah 3:15; Amos 4:1; James 5:4); and
WHEREAS, The United States of America is increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity, language, and culture; and
WHEREAS, Approximately 12 to 15 million undocumented immigrants live and work within our borders; and
WHEREAS, The relative invisibility of the immigrant population can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of health, education, and well-being, especially of children; and
WHEREAS, Recognizing that Romans 13:1-7 teaches us that the rule of law is an indispensable part of civil society and that Christians are under biblical mandate to respect the divinely-ordained institution of government and its just laws, that government has a duty to fulfill its ordained mandate, and that Christians have a right to expect the government to fulfill its ordained mandate to enforce those laws; and
WHEREAS, The governing authorities of a nation have the right and responsibility to maintain borders to protect the security of their citizens; and
WHEREAS, Undocumented immigrants are in violation of the law of the land; and
WHEREAS, Many of these persons, desiring a better future for themselves and their families, are fleeing brutal economic and political situations; and
WHEREAS, The issue of immigration has prompted often-rancorous debate in the American public square; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, call on our churches to be the presence of Christ, in both proclamation and ministry, to all persons, regardless of country of origin or immigration status; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we deplore any bigotry or harassment against any persons, regardless of their country of origin or legal status; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we ask our governing authorities to prioritize efforts to secure the borders and to hold businesses accountable for hiring practices as they relate to immigration status; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we ask our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country; and be it further
RESOLVED, That this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant; (added by amendment) and be it further
RESOLVED, That we pray for our churches to demonstrate the reconciliation of the Kingdom both in the verbal witness of our gospel and in the visible makeup of our congregations; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we affirm that while Southern Baptists, like other Americans, might disagree on how to achieve just and humane public policy objectives related to immigration, we agree that, when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to His church, the message, in every language and to every person, is “Whosoever will may come.”
The controversy revolved around the fifth “resolved”, which calls for the government to seek a way, after restitution is made, to help those who are currently here to find legal status. Three amendments were offered related to this.
- Richard Huff, a messenger from Corona de Tucson Baptist Church in Tucson, AZ, made the motion to strike the entire paragraph. A discussion ensued of that amendment. There were several points of contention with the resolution. It was argued that it was essentially an amnesty resolution, that it rewarded lawbreakers and undermined the laws of our lands. Some also argued against the committee’s use of the term “undocumented immigrant” instead of “illegal alien.” The committee and those who supported the amendment argued that it was important to approach this from a gospel mentality. They strongly argued against the amendment, even promising to oppose the entire resolution if the amendment was adopted. Finally, a vote was taken that was simply too close to call. I asked one person what he thought and he said the amendment would pass and another person I asked thought it would fail. A ballot vote was taken and reported back later in the day. The amendment failed 766-723.
- Another amendment was offered in the afternoon that called for all illegals to be returned to their homelands, but that failed by an overwhelming majority.
- The committee offered its own amendment which clarified that the resolution was “not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.” That passed by a large majority and then so did the resolution.
The reaction on Twitter was pretty strong.
Al Mohler tweeted “Southern Baptists are at a crucial decision point. The immigration crisis demands a Gospel response before any political response.”
Dr. Russell Moore tweeted, “This is an important discussion for who we’re going to be a gospel people.” And he followed that up with this gem, “Our response to the immigrant communities in this country cannot be ‘You kids get off my lawn’ in Spanish.”
Several tweets I saw expressed embarrassment at the tone of the discussion, even raising the specter of racism. One tweet, which I cannot find now, asserted that the discussion demonstrated the need for the racial reconciliation work that had been passed earlier.
So, we had one side presenting a “law and order argument and the other was presenting a “focus on the gospel” argument. I would say that this was easily the most contentious debate of the contention. I have noticed that several conservative political organizations have called the convention to task for our abandonment of conservative principles on both homosexuality and immigration.
NOTE: Please hear me on this. I am using the designations “gospel” and “law and order” to encapsulate complicated arguments. As with any label, these are insufficient and are only used for the sake of brevity. But I want to make it clear that I am not saying that those who advanced the “law and order” argument do not care about the gospel, nor that those who asserted a “gospel response” were ignoring law and order. These are just designations for simplicity, not intended as pejoratives.
I have the following observations, in no particular order of logic or importance.
1) I suspect that the amendment might have passed had it not been for the fact that Wiley Drake spoke in favor of it. Remember, if 22 people who voted against the amendment voted “aye” instead, the motion would pass 745-744. Were there 22 people who heard Wiley’s name in support of the amendment and decided to vote on the other side? I wouldn’t be surprised. I generally advocate against meanness, but there is a time for straight talk, right? We need to take up a collection to buy Wiley a Caribbean cruise during next year’s convention. We made the mistake of electing him Second VP a few years ago and he has done nothing but embarrass us ever since. I am still amazed that 101 people (in addition to himself) voted for him in the presidential election. I am very weary of the Wiley Drake show. Now, on to what I hope will be more positive analysis.
2) I could see both sides of the argument, though I was certainly more supportive of the “ministry/gospel” side. We need to secure our borders and enforce our laws. But we also need to minister to the people who are here. While my sympathies lay with one side, it is not fair to cast this completely as a good-guys vs bad-guys argument. People need to obey the law and our borders need to be secured. If I lived in Arizona, I might share some of the passions of the people who spoke on that side of the argument.
3) That said, I thought that some of the rhetoric on the “law and order” side was a little overblown and possibly cost the amendment the support it needed to pass (remember, we are talking 22 votes here). I do not think the amendment itself was racist, but some of the rhetoric made me very uncomfortable. Had a couple of people who supported the amendment offered less impassioned arguments, the amendment probably would have passed.
4) We need to remember that the SBC is a Great Commission organization, not a political organization. If I was at the Republican Convention I might support the law and order approach. Our government needs to do its job in protecting our borders and enforcing our laws. But the SBC is a gospel-centered organization (ideally, at least). We should be about reaching people more than about establishing immigration policy.
5) It is interesting that a lot of the discussion came from churches in the Southwest – on both sides. This is a big issue all over America, but evidently the passions on the issue run very high in Arizona and other border states, for obvious reasons.
6) This reinforces my theory that resolutions are more trouble than they are worth, though one might argue that this was an important discussion and resolution.
7) I am a political conservative, and pretty hard-core in my beliefs. But I think it is more important that we listen to the warning of our president, who told us to be Great Commission Christians, not Fox News Christians (not an exact quote). Nothing against Fox – they are my news and information source. But we evangelicals often are willing to forget that being conservative and being Christian are not the same thing.
Look at the way conservatives embraced Glen Beck who proclaims a blatantly false gospel. If he had been liberal we would have identified his heresy and excoriated him for it. But because he espoused conservative values and views, we looked past his false gospel and even tried to baptize his heresy – all in the name of politics.
There are political conservatives who are not Christians and Christians who are not political conservatives (though why escapes me). Christians need to find a way to be active and involved in politics without allowing the church to become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a political party (as some on both the left and right have done).
8.) Those on all sides of convention controversies in recent years have noticed what we all must admit – changes are coming in the SBC. We have changed in regards to racism – I think that is true of almost all of us. We are beginning to form a new gospel-centered, ministry-focused approach on homosexuality that does not compromise on the sin aspect, but promotes ministry instead of condemnation. And, I believe this resolution probably signals a shift in which we focus less on the political implications of our actions and more on the gospel implications.
Long time coming!
Now, this is your chance to sweetly, and in Christian love, tell me what an idiot I am.