As Mike Pence praises Trump, Southern Baptists affirm support for immigrants

The vice president caused controversy speaking at the evangelical group’s annual meeting.

Representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest evangelical bloc, overwhelmingly passed a resolution in favor of immigration reform — and affirming the dignity of immigrants — at their annual meeting this week.

“Longings to protect one’s family from warfare, violence, disease, extreme poverty, and other destitute conditions are universal, driving millions of people to leave their homelands to seek a better life for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren,” reads the resolution.

“God commands His people to treat immigrants with the same respect and dignity as those native born ... we desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families … any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ”

The vote appears to be a strong rebuke to the nativist immigration policies of the Trump administration.

“I am grateful for the strong, unanimous vote of the Southern Baptist Convention in support of our immigrant neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a longtime critic of the Trump administration, in a statement emailed to journalists.

“Now is the time for our country to act justly, to stop separating families, and to fix an immigration system that is hurting too many people in our country today.”

The meeting, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas, was a particularly visible and significant one. The original keynote speaker, former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson, recently was fired from his position as president of influential Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because of his history of unsavory comments about women, including encouraging rape victims not to report and tacitly condoning spousal abuse. (Patterson announced he would not be giving the speech earlier this week.)

And Vice President Mike Pence abruptly announced his plans to speak at the meeting Monday night, an unprecedented move for such a senior political figure, thrusting the often uncomfortable alliance between white evangelicalism and GOP politics into the spotlight.

Yet the resolution vote appeared to be a marked rebuke to Pence’s planned presence at the event, as well as Pence’s subsequent speech, which was largely a celebration of GOP talking points and the Trump presidency.

“With Donald Trump in the White House and God’s help,” Pence said, “we will make America safe again, we will make America prosperous again, and to borrow a phrase, we will make America great again.”

Initial Twitter reports suggest onsite Southern Baptist Convention reaction to the speech was mixed.

Newly elected SBC president J.D. Greer seemed to express disappointment at Pence’s politicized presence at the event, tweeting, “That sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”

Within this context, the immigration resolution vote seemed particularly politicized. In another statement emailed to journalists, Scott Arbeiter, president of faith-based humanitarian aid organization World Relief, said: “This new resolution re-affirms that evangelicals continue to stand with immigrants. In the midst of a number of troubling changes to US immigration policy, I’m encouraged that evangelical Christians are speaking up clearly for the dignity of our immigrant brothers, sisters, and neighbors.”

The SBC resolutions system has historically been a way for the community to weigh in on social issues

The resolutions system has often been a way for the Southern Baptist community to affirm its views on controversial social or political issues. While Southern Baptist churches operate autonomously from one another, they send delegates known as “messengers” to the annual meeting. The votes these delegates cast on resolutions are largely symbolic, but they’re often seen as vitally significant in shaping and responding to Southern Baptist social issues. Any messenger can submit a resolution with enough seconding signatures, but a Resolutions Committee decides which go to the floor for a vote.

In recent years, the resolutions system has been a means for Southern Baptist messengers to express support for racial and social justice. In 2015, a resolution for racial reconciliation was passed, a hugely significant step given the SBC’s historic association with slave-owners. In 2016, the SBC condemned the use of the Confederate flag as a racist symbol. And in 2017, the SBC unanimously voted to condemn the “alt-right” once the motion, originally mooted by the Resolutions Committee, was ultimately brought to the floor in a surprising reversal.

In an age when 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, and 75 percent still support him, the decisions of the messengers on the floor of the SBC convention hall suggest that the story of evangelicalism is more complicated than it appears when it comes to issues of racial justice.

The mixed reaction of SBC messengers to Pence, as well as the near-unanimous support for the immigration resolution, suggests that, increasingly, white evangelicals are not a monolith. And as the Trump presidency continues to stoke nativist and white nationalist sentiment, they may yet lose members of the evangelical base on which they once relied.

source: vox

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