A dozen Christian leaders have warned against adding recognition of same-sex partners to any immigration bill. “If your or any other proposal includes [same-sex] provisions, most, if not all of us, would have to oppose it, preventing us from mobilizing our extensive networks on behalf of the bill,” they told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in a May 1 letter. “We urge you not to tie our hands as we work together to reform our nation’s broken immigration system.”
Leahy reportedly has prepared amendments that would recognize same-sex companions. The letter from these church leaders pledged they would be “strongly opposed by many in our communities who would be otherwise sympathetic or even enthusiastic about the benefits of immigration reform.”
The signers included representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, among others. Some of them joined a media conference call to reiterate their warnings. They were even joined by Jim Wallis, a same-sex marriage supporter, who admonished: “This is the wrong place at the wrong time.”
These church leaders who are prioritizing their churches’ teaching about marriage ought to be commended. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission laudably said he would not support legislation with the same-sex recognition. As for Jim Wallis, he is at least a realist who understands politics as the art not of the ideal but of the practical.
Their stance contrasts vividly with a statement from 120 United Methodist officials, including forty-two bishops (about half of them retired), who urge recognition of “same-sex families” in any immigration legislation. The eleven million–member United Methodist Church does not recognize same-sex marriage, but many of its U.S. church officials, alas, prefer to pretend otherwise.
Dozens of United Methodist bishops were at the Mexican border early this month to demonstrate support for immigration legislation. Unlike some of the Evangelical supporters of “immigration reform,” United Methodism in its policy statements officially (although unbeknownst to most members) favors non-enforcement of current immigration law and full entitlement benefits for all immigrants.
The May 3 United Methodist letter opposes curtailing family chain immigration, specifically citing the “Gang of 8” elimination of a sibling category and capping of children over age thirty. It also complains of favoring immigrants with advanced degrees. It pronounces as “unacceptable” triggers making citizenship for illegal immigrantscontingent on increased border security, which would result in “greater arrests and deportations.” E-verify for employers and “militarization” of the border are likewise criticized.
“Spending such massive sums of money for border security, a function which is questionable in its efficacy, while at the same time cutting necessary programs that benefit people in real need is simply immoral,” the United Methodists complain. “Therefore, we urge Congress to drastically cut the funding for border militarization to only the essentials.” And they are troubled by the “Gang of 8” proposal to defer government benefits for newly legalized immigrants by a decade or more. They also don’t like “rigid criteria” denying citizenship to illegal immigrants guilty of three misdemeanors or one aggravated felony, speculating about “racial profiling,” and surmising that “punitive public policy is usually ineffective public policy.”
This statement reflects the fact that United Methodist and other mainline Protestant public policy advocates have been politically marginalized for so long that they have the luxury of political posturing before their own audience without worry for any actual national impact.
Jim Wallis, for example, likely agrees with the United Methodists on virtually every point about immigration. His unvarnished rhetoric of twenty-five years ago sounded very much like theirs, if not more radical. But he has carefully aligned himself with strategically more important Evangelicals for more than a decade. And his public endorsement of same-sex marriage so far has not significantly estranged him from Evangelical allies; witness his inclusion in the largely Evangelical media conference call aimed at Leahy.
Fascinating times for church political witness. If some form of mass legalization passes, it will probably solidify new religious alliances and confirm a political evolution especially for many Evangelicals. If it fails, it will be perhaps one sign that despite all the rhetoric, Evangelicals remain politically conservative and skeptical of sweeping legislative solutions to immigration and much else.
Meanwhile, Evangelical and Catholic public resistance to including same-sex couples in otherwise appealing (for them) immigration legislation hopefully evinces a persistent adherence to traditional Christian teaching amid increasing adversity. It recalls the USCCB’s refusal to back Obamacare over abortion. May such principled stubbornness continue.
Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.