Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered a sermon reproving politicians in both parties whose positions are politically calculated and challenging those in attendance to act biblically toward the immigrant.
New Life Pastor David Galvan introduced Patterson, whom he sat under in classes when Patterson was president of Criswell College in the 1970s.
After expressing his "consummate joy" at being in the church of his former student, Patterson related the account of his ancestors' move to Texas, noting that such migration points "to the inevitability of the movements of people from generation to generation."
"What we are experiencing here is absolutely nothing new," Patterson said Feb. 9.
Noting the scourges of human trafficking and the illicit drug trade, Patterson offered a biblical admonition, reminding the congregation that the Lord frequently commanded ancient Israel to "love the stranger."
Regarding immigration reform, Patterson called upon Republican politicians to "stop playing for political favor," and for Democratic politicians to "stop trying to take advantage of for your political party."
"We do not need Congress to act in order to support any party, but in order to take care of those whom God has put in our care," Patterson said, calling legislators to enact "genuinely bipartisan" immigration reform.
Patterson commended the "genius of the prayer meeting" as the key to reform, using as his text for the evening Acts 5, where the early church gathered to pray for Peter's release from prison and saw their prayers answered miraculously.
"In all the history of the church, when the church has become militant and taken up weapons, they have left a sad mark on the church of the living God. But the church in this case realized it had a weapon that is stronger than the sword. They had the ability to go to God in earnest prayer," Patterson said.
Applying the text to immigration, Patterson commented on the improbability of congressmen "getting together." The issue is not merely "Hispanic, not just a circumstance of people coming across the border," Patterson said.
True reform must include "the intervention of God," Patterson said. "God is going to have to change some hearts."
"A great movement of God is needed, and He could do it now," said Patterson, who called upon the congregation to pray.
"If we are praying as we should, maybe we wake up in the morning and we are as surprised as the early church was. It is not Peter standing on the front step, but it is our congressmen standing there with a law, saying, 'We have worked it out.'"
But immigration reform will not be easy, Patterson said.
"What guarantees justice for one person often tends to take it away from another." The key will not be "social legislation," but rather the "intervention of God."
Patterson noted the truth that "God guides the hands of the ruler," evident in the Old Testament examples of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus.
"God is not limited by human motives," he added, recalling his own upbringing with an older sister and three step-siblings of Arab, Hispanic, and Japanese heritage, all of whom became Christ followers.
"I don't know what the church can do about immigration ... the lawless society. But I know what we can do. We can see every single person we come in contact with as a person that God put in our path. They are not accidentally there. They are there to be the objects of our love. They are there to be the objects of our witness. And every single one of us is obligated to do everything within our power to see them through, that each of those individuals has a wonderfully happy life here and eternal life with God in heaven. May God help us to do our part and then may Congress follow our lead."
While Patterson's sermon capped the evening, the service began with remarks from Galvan and Tim C. Moore, Texas mobilizer for the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) and pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Austin.
Recounting the movement of Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus from Bethlehem to Egypt, Moore noted, "I don't find where Joseph and Mary stopped to get a visa."
"The Bible says that Jesus himself never sinned, the sinless one, and this I know, whatever we do on immigration reform, the children of those who came here illegally ... have done nothing wrong, and they ought to have citizenship," Moore said.
Moore enumerated some of the evangelical organizations, including Southern Baptists, World Vision and Bread of Life --groups representing 68 million Christians -- whose leadership is aligned with EIT principles.
EIT publications list the organization's principles as follows: respect for the God-given dignity of every person, promotion of family unity, respect for the rule of law, advocacy of a path toward legal status or citizenship for those who qualify, border security and fairness to taxpayers.
"Dr. Patterson has agreed to have his name added to the signatories supporting EIT principles," Moore said after the service.
Moore directed the audience to communicate with Congress using the materials provided by the EIT. He expressed optimism about immigration reform, noting the recent bipartisan committee passage of five immigration bills.
"The divide is not over policy but over time," said Moore, who claimed lawmakers are not debating issues of citizenship, legalization or border security, but rather when policy changes will occur.
"If churches do not begin to weigh in, if your voices are not heard, immigration reform will be kicked down the road," said Moore, who admitted that until a year ago, he had not been an advocate of immigration reform.
In contrast to Moore's more recent involvement in the cause, Galvan has long been a voice for immigration reform.
"I am simply a pastor of a local church who realized that as an evangelical Hispanic congregation, we needed to get involved collectively in this effort. Immigration reform is something that we have been praying about for many years," Galvan said in an interview after the event.
Galvan said he became a signer of the EIT principles when the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission first commended them.
The Pray4Reform service at New Life was accompanied by a churchwide 40 days of fasting and prayer, Galvan said.
"I think Dr. Patterson's message was on target, because whatever happens in Washington D.C. has to be a movement of God."
Jane Rogers writes for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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