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Oklahoma congressman disagrees with evangelical Christian group's immigration reform plan

Oklahoma's U.S. Rep. James Lankford, former director of a Southern Baptist youth camp, says that he understands the moral dimension of immigration reform, but he doesn't agree that a path to citizenship has to be part of the solution.
by Chris Casteel Modified: July 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: July 29, 2013

U.S. Rep. James Lankford understands the message that evangelical Christian leaders have been delivering on Capitol Hill as they urge lawmakers to approve immigration reform.

He just doesn't agree with one of their main goals.

“There's a Biblical mandate to reach out to those who are the orphans, the widows in their distress, to take care of the stranger in your land,” Lankford said. “But that does not mean citizenship.

“So there is this push of some people that would say, ‘Because we have a moral responsibility to take care of those in need, you also extend to them all these different things.' That's not true with most Southern Baptists.”

Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has some experience with the views of Southern Baptists. He has a master's degree from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he worked for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma for 13 years, much of that as the director of a youth camp.

For the past few years, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have joined coalitions of evangelicals pushing for immigration reform. The latest such group is called the evangelical Immigration Table.

Russell Moore, the new president of the Ethics and Religious Policy Commission, was among the group's leaders who held a news conference and prayer service on Capitol Hill last week on the issue.

Principles of reform

The evangelical Immigration Table has stopped short of endorsing specific legislation and is not pushing the House to pass the bill that was approved last month by the U.S. Senate that mandates tougher border security and offers a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Instead the coalition has embraced a set of principles for bipartisan reform that:

Respects the God-given dignity of every person

Protects the unity of the immediate family

Respects the rule of law

Guarantees secure national borders

Ensures fairness to taxpayers

Establishes a path toward legal status and citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.

Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojurners, said at the news conference, “We call upon this Congress to understand the moral urgency of immigration reform, the urgency of keeping families together, the urgency of those who cannot get critical health care or are at the mercy of criminals, those who are living in the shadows of fear and insecurity. That is urgent for us.”

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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