Definition, please: Who are these evangelicals?

The Tampa Bay Times broke big news on its front page the other day. According to the Florida newspaper, there are 100 million evangelicals in the United States. Amazingly, all of them have decided to support immigration reform.

Who knew evangelicals were so like-minded and all willing to follow the same unnamed leaders? But I digress. Again.

Let's start at the top of the story, which also ran in the Miami Herald:

WASHINGTON — I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Evangelicals nationwide are turning their Bibles to Matthew 25:35 and praying that Congress is listening to those words — part of a highly-coordinated effort to spur progress on the long unresolved and contentious issue of immigration.

Faith leaders and their congregations have become an unlikely but powerful ally to reform advocates, framing the question over what to do with 11 million unauthorized residents as one of moral compassion, and tapping into influence among Republicans to soften opposition to a pathway to citizenship.

“Immigration is an issue that speaks to coming to the aid of the most vulnerable,” said the Rev. Joel Hunter, head of the megachurch Northland near Orlando. “We want to develop in our people a heart for those who are disadvantaged and give them a fair shake.”

After the vague references up high to "evangelicals," "faith leaders" and "congregations," give the Tampa Bay Times a little credit for quoting a named source — finally — in the fourth paragraph, although some might quibble and suggest Jesus is the "head" of the church and Hunter only the "senior pastor."

Sarcasm aside, this story has two major problems:

• First, the broad generalizations that it attaches to a vast, vague group of Americans that it characterizes as "evangelicals."

As the reader who submitted the story link to GetReligion put it:

Just who are the evangelicals? I can't get any sense of who they are or what they believe from reading this.

The story needs to be much more specific on (1) what it means by evangelicals, (2) who is involved with the group lobbying for immigration reform and (3) how representative this group is.

Moreover — if the goal is to write a news story and not a one-sided press release — is there not a single evangelical voter or leader who might offer a different perspective?

• Second, Scriptural references are presented as if the Bible has one simple, easy-to-understand position on the U.S. immigration debate:

To elevate their cause, the faith leaders, who have come together under the name Evangelical Immigration Table, have begun a campaign called, "I was a Stranger."

It calls for church members to read the 40 verses of Scripture that relate to immigration — Exodus 23:12, for example, calls for resting on the seventh day and allowing the "stranger" or "foreigner" to refresh as well — and pray that legislators take the same Bible-led approach.

Who is the source on the claim that the Bible has precisely 40 verses that relate to immigrants?

As I shared previously,wrote a story myself last year in which I noted that Leviticus 19:33 declares, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.” On the flip side, however, Romans 13:1 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

In a nutshell, the immigration issue — even as it relates to that homogeneous group of Americans known as evangelicals — is much more complex than the Tampa Bay Times story would lead readers to believe.

By failing to reflect that reality, this Page 1 story falls short.

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