The story is that Evangelical leaders are supportive of “comprehensive” immigration reform. Rev. Michael Wilker told us so in his Washington Post op ed. But the facts don’t support him. See “No, Evangelicals Are Not United on Immigration Reform.” Not only are Evangelicals not united, some are deeply suspicious of the way Wilker put together his fictional coalition.
Aside from the actual issue of immigration reform and where us Evangelicals stand, there are a couple of other issues this surfaces.
One, no one person speaks for Evangelicals. No one group speaks for Evangelicals. Evangelicalism is a movement, not an institution. The only way to find out where Evangelicals might stand on any given issue is to carefully poll them. Billy Graham does not speak for all. Rick Warren does not speak for all. What comes out of Wheaton College does not speak for all. And surely, Jim Wallis does not speak for Evangelicals. Even the National Association of Evangelicals is a marginal representative of this movement.
There are Evangelicals on most sides of any given political issue. What gives glue to the movement are four or so distinctives:
One, we are a Bible-centered movement. Don’t take that simplistically. There is nuanced interpretation and careful scholarship here. But the bottom line, Evangelicals have a fierce commitment to the authority of the Bible, not as our experience of God but as God’s Word to us.
Two, the belief that Christ atoned for our sins on the cross. Jesus dies as a substitutionary sacrifice, taking upon himself the penalty due to our sin. Salvation is not moral self-improvement or a mere assent to a doctrinal proposition. We preach Jesus on a cross, the lamb of God shedding blood to cover our iniquities.
Three, the belief that all must be born again to enter into the Kingdom of God. There must be a conversion of the heart, of man’s sinful nature. Until then we are children of wrath and under the judgment of God. Evangelicals call all people, even those who sit in pews, to the new birth through faith in Christ as the Savior.
Four, the Evangelical movement is characterized by activism. This word has often referred, in the press, to leftist social, economic and political movements. But historically it was Evangelicals across denominational lines who banded together in volunteer societies to send wave after wave of missionaries across the globe and at home engaged education for the masses, reformed the treatment of prisoners, began temperance movements to ameliorate the scourge of alcoholism, agitated to free slaves, lifted up the urban poor, and provided for the orphans. The list goes on and on. While denominations slept and spent all their resources on themselves, Evangelical societies raised the finances to support any number of social causes.
Evangelicals are by and large not statists. They do not share utopian visions of society based on state solutions. They continue to believe that spiritual revival is at the root of all good. True, they will vote and seek support for a moral position. But they do not look at the sate as a partner to usher in the kingdom of God. They make a very clear distinction between the role of the state and the role of the church. They do not seek to convert the state and make it do the work of the church. They make a distinction between what is individually required of us as moral beings and as Christians and what is required of the state. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not the role of the state. When the Bible says to the God lover and the Christ follower, welcome the stranger in your midst, it is a huge leap to then assert therefore it is the state’s responsibility to have open borders or to saturate the nation with huge numbers of immigrants who are unable to support themselves and must depend upon the state’s largesse for their welfare, requiring by force of law that my neighbor pay more in taxes for church moral positions. My experience in Evangelicalism is that this is exactly what is not supported, contrary to any number of press releases. Some Evangelicals might, a la Jim Wallis or Tom Sine. But these are marginal figures on the Evangelical landscape who by no means have the confidence of the majority of Evangelicals.
The same ones who cry against the political involvement of Falwell’s Moral Majority or Phyllis Schlafy”s Eagle Forum or James Dobson’s Focus on the Family (of earlier years) are now working for church support of statist agendas and demanding that Christ requires it if we love our neighbor as ourselves. Evangelicals don’t see it.