Editor’s Update (May 2, 2013): G92 is joining other Christian organizations throughout the country in urging you to pray fervently over the next ninety-two days for immigration reform. Please commit to praying & sign up for weekly requests and reminders at www.pray4reform.org.
Last week, I was asked to give a lecture on a biblical perspective on immigration at the Salvation Army seminary in Chicago. After my talk, a student came up and asked what the single most important thing she could do as a busy student over the next few weeks to support the passage of just and compassionate immigration reform. I gave her what I’ve realized, upon reflection, was the wrong answer.
I told her that if she could do just one thing, it would be to call her U.S. Senator, Mark Kirk, to ask him to support the bipartisan immigration reform proposal that will soon be introduced in the Senate, and then to think about how she could mobilize other phone calls. If immigration reform is to pass this time around, I reasoned, and not suffer the same hope-dashing end as in it did in 2006 and in 2007, the silent majority who support reforms will need to be more willing to call, write to, and visit their legislators—especially swing votes like Senator Kirk (whose last major vote on an immigration issue was against the DREAM Act in 2010)—than they were the last time around, when calls opposed to the legislation being pushed by President Bush outnumbered those in support by ten to one.
Contacting legislators and mobilizing others to do so is certainly important, and I hope that the student who talked to me on Thursday does so. But the most important thing she could do is not to communicate with her Senator, but with the Sovereign God. I should have told her, above all other things, to commit to prayer for the next several months as immigration reform legislation is debated. If we believe Scripture, we know that God is ultimately sovereign even over the political process: “The king’s heart [or the Senator or Congressperson’s heart, I think it is fair to extrapolate] is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). We can trust both in the biblical promises that God loves and establishes justice for immigrants and that he has the power to do so, even over the fickle democratic political process of the United States. He invites us to bring our requests to him, and to pray for his kingdom of justice to be established “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Particularly throughout this Lenten season, as I’ve been reading through the daily Scripture passages related to immigration as part of the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, I’ve been praying earnestly that God would move the hearts of legislators—even those who seem hardest of heart—such that they would quickly pass just, compassionate immigration reform that would affect so many whom I know. Here are a few specific individuals that I’ve been praying for, for whom you might join me in praying:
- Pray for the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” the bipartisan group of Senators who have committed to working together to find compromise legislation that could actually pass the Senate with the necessary super-majority. That includes Republican Senators Marco Rubio (FL), John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Jeff Flake (AZ) and Democratic Senators Dick Durbin (IL), Chuck Schumer (NY), Robert Menendez (NJ), and Michael Bennet (CO). Pray that each individual would have the courage to do what is right, whether or not it is politically expedient. I pray specifically that the Republicans would not give in to fear of losing primary elections as a result of the aggressive fax and telephone call campaigns from population control groups like NumbersUSA and FAIR. I pray that Democrats would resist the temptation to sabotage a bill’s passage by insisting uncompromisingly upon the most liberal possible provisions or tying the bill to other controversial social issues, which could push Republicans into voting against the bill and allow Democrats to continue (perhaps successfully, from a political perspective) with the “Republicans hate Latinos” rhetoric indefinitely—but would keep eleven million people undocumented and vulnerable.
- Pray for the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose votes will be crucial if a bill is to move forward in the Senate: Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Diana Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Michael Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
- Pray for the House of Representative’s own bipartisan “gang of eight” (or maybe more) who are quietly negotiating their own legislative language for immigration reform legislation. The New York Times reports that this effort is led by Republicans Raul Labrador (ID), John Carter (TX), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), and Sam Johnson (TX) and Democrats Luis Gutierrez (IL), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Xavier Becerra (CA), and John Yarmuth (KY).
- Pray for Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has recently expressed his desire and expectation that a bipartisan compromise can be reached. It would be a major impediment to reform passing if, though there may be enough votes in the House to pass a bipartisan compromise, only a minority of the Republican members support the bill; in that case, Speaker Boehner would have to be willing to override the “Hastert Rule”—not calling a bill to a vote unless a majority of the Republicans support it—that he has generally followed in order for the bill to pass.
- Pray for the members of the House Judiciary Committee, particularly Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA), Ranking Member John Conyers (MI), and Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (SC), whose leadership in the House will also be vital.
- Pray for President Obama and his advisers, that they would have divine wisdom to walk the right balance between aggressive leadership and disengagement. The reality is that many Republicans might be wary, for political reasons, to vote for legislation that becomes known as “Obama’s immigration reform bill” but would be willing to support the very same legislation if it is framed as the “bipartisan immigration reform bill” (even if it is supported by the President). The President’s tone in the State of the Union last week, as Republican commentator Michael Gerson noted, struck the right tone to keep Republicans engaged; pray that he continues with this posture, and that both the President and the Congress would put the good of the country ahead of political posturing.
- Pray for the Church, that Christ-followers across the country—of every ethnicity and political persuasion—would be united in seeking God’s heart on this complex issue. Pray that many local churches and Christian college campuses would take up the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge and allow Scripture to inform both the ways that they interact with their immigrant neighbors and the public policies that they support. Pray that pastors and leaders throughout the country would be willing and able to meet with their legislators, and that Members of Congress, particularly those who profess to be believers, would accept the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, too, and that their Holy Spirit would guide them toward policies consistent with biblical principles, whether or not those policies seem politically expedient.
- Finally, we cannot forget Jesus’ command that we pray for our enemies: if there are opponents to immigration reform, they include groups with ties to the population control movement such as NumbersUSA, FAIR, and the Center for Immigration Studies, which have historically been incredibly influential in convincing Republicans, in particular, to vote against immigration reform. Pray that God would, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, “lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in [his] good time enable us all to stand reconciled” before God. Pray that Christian leaders would respond with grace and love to criticism and attacks as they speak out on immigration.
Ultimately, I believe Christians are called to both pray and to act for justice; I do not mean to perpetuate a false dichotomy between prayer and action. Calling our legislators and mobilizing others to act is vital, as I have emphasized here repeatedly. But so is prayer: if we really believe what the Bible says—that God is both sovereign and that he invites and responds to our prayers—we are failing in one of the unique ways that the Church can contribute if we are not consistently in prayer for immigration reform. There is no higher calling.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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