Despite their best efforts, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee cannot convince some Southern Baptists (including this one) that their Immigration Resolution was not a call for the government to grant amnesty to 12-15 million “undocumented immigrants.” That the Gospel was used as a test of whether one has true compassion for the undocumented immigrants among us makes the arguments for the passage of this Resolution all the more unconvincing and unpersuasive. In the end, the Immigration Resolution had the walk, quack, and look of a duck (i.e., amnesty), and there was nothing that the Resolutions Committee could do to change that fact. That they had to add a clarification “Resolved” only after a razor-thin victory on an unfriendly amendment shows just how tenuous the Immigration Resolution was from the get go.
Perhaps more than any other issue that confronted the lowest number of messengers to attend an Annual Meeting of the SBC since 1944, the Immigration Resolution not only shows the disconnect between grass-roots Southern Baptists and the leadership of the Convention, but it blows a hole in the facade of unity that was carefully orchestrated for this year’s Phoenix Convention. I’m not sure about your church, but if I had a split vote on a major initiative, I don’t think I would view that as a unified body. But hey, maybe that’s just me.
Like the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists, I found myself (due to illness)unable to attend any of the Annual Meeting (although I made the trip to Phoenix). As I have read about the original Immigration Resolution that came out of the Committee and the subsequent floor fight regarding the original language and some substitute language, it has become more apparent that some within the leadership class of the SBC are moving in what can only be described as a more moderate direction — politically if not theologically. I could not agree more with SBC Plodder, William Thorton, who said of the Immigration Resolution:
“When I read the resolution I thought that it sounded just like what the CBF would do, if they did resolutions.”
As I read the Immigration Resolution at SBCVoices (here), I had the feeling I was reading something that a moderate or left-wing political and/or religious group had come up with. If you would have told me that this kind of Resolution would come out of an SBC Resolutions Committee — much less pass on the floor of the Convention — I would have said, “No Way!” But, apparently there was a will and a way for this Resolution to pass. Of course, the pink elephant in the room is that less than 3,000 messengers “spoke” for 16 million Southern Baptists. The bad news is that this small gathering has put the SBC on record regarding immigration and amnesty (notwithstanding the “clarifying” amendment that the Committee offered). The good news is that this Resolution has absolutely no authority over any of the 45,000+ autonomous churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
If the Immigration Resolution would have limited itself to the Gospel and the Church’s obligation to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone — regardless of their race, ethnicity, or immigration status — then there would have been almost universal support for this Resolution not only among the assembled messengers but, the SBC at large. Who could rationally argue that the Great Commission does not compel us to take the Gospel to the nations? Who would try to make the case that we should not love our neighbor as ourself? To try to argue that we are not more culturally and ethnically diverse as a nation would be irrational indeed. But, nevertheless, these statements would have met with broad approval.
However, what almost doomed this Resolution from the beginning was the language used, including substituting a politically correct term of the left — undocumented immigrants — for the more accurate nomenclature — illegal alien or illegal immigrant. Why are some immigrants undocumented whereas others are documented? I guess it must be the legal documents that one should get before entering into this country. Who knew?
Before getting to the most egregious part of the Resolution, there was one “Whereas” clause which needs more clarification:
WHEREAS, The relative invisibility of the immigrant population can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of health, education, and well-being, especially of children;
While the above “Whereas” is self-evident, what should be done in regards to the detrimental consequences in terms of “health, education, and well-being, especially of children?” Does this mean that the states and the legal residents should pay for health and education benefits for illegal immigrants? Should college tuition and health insurance be provided for those who are here illegally? Should illegal immigrants have the ability to secure driver’s licenses? It’s one thing to state the obvious. It is quite another to talk about specific government policies which confer benefits on those who are here illegally.
The final straw for almost half the messengers in Phoenix was the fifth “Resolved” clause:
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;
You can call this clause whatever you like, but most people reasonably understand this language — the language used by liberal groups and pro-comprehensive immigration proponents in Congress — as one of amnesty. In an almost evenly divided vote, 723 messengers wanted to strike the fifth “Resolved” entirely from the Resolution. When that amendment barely lost, the Resolutions Committee apparently re-grouped and offered a “clarifying” amendment later that afternoon:
RESOLVED, That this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant; (added by amendment)
That the Committee itself offered this amendment says at least two things: 1) They understood that the original language in the fifth “Resolved” clause could reasonably be interpreted as a call for amnesty; and, 2) The Committee knew, that without this clarification, that the entire Immigration Resolution may have been defeated on the floor of the Convention. Talk about an embarrassing situation.
Even though a majority of messengers ended up voting for the amendment and the overall Resolution, this entire Immigration debate in Phoenix illustrates just how divided Southern Baptists are on some of the major issues of the day (the other being our response to homosexuality within our culture).
In the end, did we really need this Resolution? As a pastor in New Mexico, a majority Hispanic state which shares a border with Mexico, our church freely shares the Gospel in a diverse culture. I have never once thought about asking anyone coming to church whether they were here legally or illegally. The Gospel is the Gospel and it is to be preached to all people — regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, or immigration status. It is simply not my job to determine anyone’s citizenship or immigration status.
However, I expect the government to secure our nation’s borders. I expect them to determine if someone is here legally before they can obtain a driver’s license (although illegals can in New Mexico). Living only 100 miles north of Juarez, Mexico, one of the most violent towns along our border (across the river from El Paso, TX), we should expect that the borders will be secure. Until they are — and we’ve got along way to go — we should not even be talking about
“compasionate paths to legal status” amnesty. And for those who think that a friendly amendment offered by the Resolutions Committee to save their Immigration Resolution somehow turned the amnesty clause into an non-amnesty clause, remember: if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck, no matter what anyone tries to tell you!