Southern Baptists running away from immigration reform

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Logo of the Southern Baptist Convention

Logo of the Southern Baptist Convention

Logo of the Southern Baptist Convention

In recent years, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has provided some notable support for comprehensive immigration reform. In 2011, the SBC passed a resolution calling on the government to provide undocumented immigrants with “a just and compassionate path to legal status.” Richard Land, the longtime head of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and his successor Russell Moore have both served prominently on the Evangelical Immigration Table, the umbrella group that has lobbied for just such a path.

But since President Obama took matters into his own hands in the face of congressional inaction, Southern Baptist Pooh-bahs have done a U-Turn. The president’s executive action will “tear us apart,” huffs Moore. It “will endanger our constitutional experiment in government,” puffs Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

The pièce de evangelical résistance, however, comes from Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern, writing on this very site yesterday. He takes President Obama to task for associating his executive action with Exodus 23:9. (“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”)

The president, declares Coppenger, “ran roughshod over context.”

Ancient Israel had open borders; we don’t. The “strangers” in Exodus weren’t “undocumented,” since there were no such documents. And Moses used enslavement in Egypt as his reference for oppression, hardly comparable to a flight back to Mexico City. And what of other passages, such as Romans 13:1-7, which honors the rule of law?

Ah, the perils of proof-texting. To be sure, among the whereases in that 2011 resolution, the SBC cites Exodus 22:21. (“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  And Zechariah 7:10. (“And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor…”) And Amos and Isaiah and Deuteronomy and many more biblical injunctions to help the least and the alien among us. And none of this is presented as being at odds with Romans 13, which is also cited.

Yet somehow, for Coppenger, the president’s invocation of Exodus 23:9 is “carrying contraband” across “the hermeneutical bridge.” I’d say that, for the Southern Baptist establishment, crossing the Republicans is the political bridge that cannot be traversed.

And speaking of Republicans, let us not overlook Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, another Southern Baptist, who on the morning of President Obama’s immigration speech visited MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said, “This idea, the rule of law, is really concerning a lot of people where I come from. And whether it’s factual or perceptual, it really doesn’t matter.”

Brother Tom, why not enhance the perception of your constituents by reminding  them that their state got its start when immigrants violated the rule of law by rushing across the border to grab 160 acres of “unassigned land.” Which is why, today, the people where you come from proudly call themselves Sooners.

How’s that for context?