In God's name

immigration marchThe current immigration debate in Washington, D.C., is chock full of religion issues that are floating just under the above-the-fold stories on the legislative processes and debates. The religious angle in immigration cuts across political boundaries and shoots directly at the center of the teaching of Jesus Christ. I have yet to see -- and maybe I'm not looking hard enough -- a solid story examining the theology behind the "love your neighbor" doctrine and how it relates to the immigration debate, but some religious leaders already know where they stand and they are looking to be heard as this debate rages.

A commenter on a previous tmatt post, coincidentally named Daniel, said the pro-immigration marches across the country are an interesting example of the religious left. Daniel appropriately notes that there has been a lack of coverage of religious leaders in Washington who staged mock arrests earlier this week to demonstrate what could happen if they help illegal aliens.

This Scripps-McClatchy wire story provides a solid summary of the religious issue in the current immigration debate:

DENVER -- A wide range of religious groups have been serving a critical role in recent efforts to push Congress to pass what they call humane immigration reforms.

More than 200 religious organizations, including those associated with Catholics, evangelicals, Mennonites, Muslims and Jews, have conducted letter-writing campaigns to President Bush and Congress and encouraged congregation members to attend huge pro-immigrant rallies in cities across the country.

One of the most visible organizations in the debate, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been training clergy, parishioners and church employees on the religious principles of helping refugees and immigrants. Locally, members of the Denver Archdiocese have been conducting educational presentations on immigration reform about twice a week.

immigration logoAs the story demonstrates, the current immigration debate crosses into religious territory in many ways, including the fact that most immigrants (legal or illegal) come from Catholic backgrounds, the command to love your neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan, to name a few.

The political/religious bombshell of the week was Sen. Hilary Clinton's invocation of biblical themes in her opposition to a bill passed by the House in December that would criminalize undocumented immigrants:

Surrounded by a multicultural coalition of New York immigration advocates, Clinton blasted the House bill as "mean-spirited" and said it flew in the face of Republicans' stated support for faith and values.

"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures," Clinton said, "because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."

Clinton did not specifically endorse any competing legislation, including a bill co-authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and another by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), saying she hoped the Senate Judiciary Committee would produce a compromise incorporating the best elements of all the bills and would remove the harsh penalties contained in the House measure.

Immigration2One can disagree with Clinton's reading of Scripture and question her religious sincerity, but one cannot deny that the junior New York Senator gets the importance of religion when it comes to the country's cultural/political mindset. And the press is eating it up. While Republicans won't likely win many votes in 2008 by raising theological issues with Clinton, journalists should do so -- because it matters.

I don't have the expertise or the time to thoroughly parse Clinton's statement (I'm sure you all will help me). But just as good journalists would never let a public official get away with making this bold a statement regarding policy or history, the same journalists should examine the theology behind Clinton's statements, as they did when George W. Bush said in his 2000 presidential campaign that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher.

Clinton's Methodist background is hard to miss these days, and she's certainly not shy about letting it shine. But how will that play with evangelicals, many of whom believe that denomination represents everything that is wrong with mainline American Christianity?

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On a related note, did you hear that Christians in this country feel persecuted? To read the predictably snarky view of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, click here. Check back with us later for more on this.

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