Arizona law finds little favor with conservative evangelical leaders


A group of conservative evangelical leaders today called for a “ratcheting down” of the rhetoric surrounding the immigration issue in the wake of the passage of the Arizona crackdown on illegal immigration.

“In 2010, people are willing to look the other way while other citizens are racially profiled,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference said. “Is the conservative movement exclusively for white people? Latinos are more socially conservative than white evangelicals,” he said warning politicians by name, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, to “remember Reagan and remember Lincoln, and simultaneously eliminate threats of xenophobia from the conservative movement.”

Pawlenty’s pastor, Rev. Leith Anderson of Edina’s Wooddale Church, said the group will take out a full-page ad in tomorrow’s Roll Call newspaper that will call for “dignity for each person, unity of families, respect of the rule of law, secure borders, and the establishment of a path to legal status for those who wish to become legal residents.” That’s the part that appears to divide conservatives.

Anderson, who is also president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the Arizona law is “not pro family and we’re interested in what we can do to have intact and healthy families.”

The Arizona law found little favor in the group. “This is not an issue that can be dealt with by one state,” said Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Conference, who criticized some opponents of immigration reform who refer to pathways to citizenship as amnesty. ” To say a person willing to pay a fine, learn English, take a civics course … to say that’s giving them amnesty, they need a course in remedial English. Amnesty is what Jimmy Carter gave the draft dodgers… this is not amnesty.”

He took aim at conservative commentators who use the term. “They may be conservatives, they may be social conservatives, but they’re not evangelicals,” he said.

The pastors appeared to embrace the idea of a multiple approach in immigration reform that starts with securing borders, but also provides pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants. They rejected mass deportations.

“The reality is that just doing one piece of solving a problem is going to unbalance the issue,” Rev. Anderson said. “What we have already is a number of people whose families are divided who need to be reunited. We typically don’t deal with other issues incrementally. What we need is Republicans and Democrats to come together and address the issue and not just shout opinions to a broader audience.”

There may be little political payoff for many politicians to follow that advice. A poll out today shows most Americans favor the Arizona approach.