Immigration Reform and Southern Baptists

By Richard Land
Apr 4, 2007

News reports in both the national print and electronic media have unfortunately sown some confusion over where Southern Baptists, and I, stand on the question of immigration reform.

Like most Americans, Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals continue to search for a morally responsible way to address the growing immigration crisis while honoring the rule of law.

To date, legislation offering truly comprehensive immigration reform—legislation that will garner the support of a critical mass of Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals—has yet to be written and introduced in Congress.

Immigration reform that is “truly” comprehensive and will earn my support will square with the points covered in a resolution overwhelmingly adopted by Southern Baptists’ elected messengers meeting at their annual convention in June 2006.

The reform would:

  • Insure the federal government provides for U.S. security “by controlling and securing our borders”;
  • Enforce immigration laws, including oversight of the hiring practices of private employers;
  • Deal judiciously and “realistically” with those in the country illegally; and,
  • Allow the people of God to act “redemptively,” reaching out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants as they work toward an earned pathway of “legal status and/or citizenship.”

If I were a U.S. Congressman or Senator, I would not support any immigration bill that has yet been introduced. Each of the bills falls short in some critical areas.

Senate measures have been too lenient and have not adequately addressed border security. The House bill, which gained passage in the last session, was inadequate in that it focused almost exclusively on border security and failed to position the government to deal “realistically with the immigration crisis in a way that would restore trust among the citizenry,” as the SBC resolution urges.

The legislation that will generate majority support among Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals is still out there waiting to be written and introduced in the Congress.

It is imperative that Congress—consistent with national sovereignty and with our national security—expeditiously find a way to resolve this moral problem in a moral way in line with the ideals of our nation.

I am in favor of a measure that includes controlling the borders and enforcing immigration laws inside the country, while offering no amnesty for lawbreakers. This is my position and the position that emerges from any fair and objective reading of the SBC resolution.

The term “comprehensive legislation” is not code for amnesty, no matter what my critics contend. Webster defines amnesty as the “act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” Amnesty is wiping a transgressor’s record clean—it is a free ride.

Proper reform should consist of a “guest-worker” program that requires an illegal immigrant to undergo a criminal background check, pay a fine, agree to pay back taxes, learn English, and get in line behind those who have legally migrated into this country in order to apply for permanent residence after a probationary period of years. Amnesty? Hardly.

To call any proposed requirement—that individuals must learn to read and write and speak English and go through a rigorous process in order to earn their way out of a lengthy period of “probation” in order to apply for legal status—“amnesty” is to do violence to the English language.

One must not only learn how to read, write, and speak English properly; one must use the language as it was intended. Words have agreed upon meanings. One cannot change the meanings of words arbitrarily. Penalties, probation, and requirements do not equal “amnesty.”

My position and the position of most Southern Baptists with whom I have spoken on this issue embraces the thought that if these immigrants choose to travel on a “path of legal status and/or citizenship,” it must include certain financial, time, and other requirements. Amnesty? Hardly.

As reflected in the resolution on immigration that was overwhelmingly adopted at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting last June in Greensboro, N.C., and as I said in a press conference March 29, 2007, in Washington, D.C., on the topic of immigration, Southern Baptists will not embrace reform that is not committed to securing the borders.

As U.S. citizens, we have a right to expect the federal government to enforce the laws regarding who crosses our borders. Border security is a question of national sovereignty, national security, and the government fulfilling its divinely mandated responsibility to enforce the law (Romans 13:1-7).

While the government focuses on enforcing the law, Christians are mandated to forgive and to act redemptively within their communities toward all people, including illegal immigrants. As citizens of the Lord’s heavenly Kingdom, we have a divine mandate to respond compassionately toward those who are in need.

At the March 29 press conference, I not only cited extensively the SBC resolution on the immigration crisis, I also handed out copies of a first-person commentary on the issue that was published in Baptist Press (04/27/06), well prior to the Convention’s adoption of the resolution in June of that year.

I was asked by a USA Today reporter following that press conference if my position on this issue was not somewhat ahead of where “some” of the people in the pew were. I agreed that I might be “a little bit ahead” of where some Southern Baptists are vis-à-vis this issue, but I noted voting messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the resolution on the immigration crisis with near unanimity and with no debate.

For the record, I did not say, and did not acknowledge, that I was “a little bit ahead” of where the Convention was. In fact, I was at the press conference representing what the Convention had said on the issue.

Once again I am reminded that it is usually far better to speak for yourself than to leave it to others to write about what you supposedly said.

If I were in Congress I would look to the SBC resolution on immigration reform as a blueprint and plumb line for writing truly comprehensive immigration reform. None of the legislation currently being proposed or considered in the Congress comes anywhere close to rising to the standard set by our Convention’s messengers last June.

I remain determined to do my best to ensure that Southern Baptists and I are not misunderstood on this critical issue, in spite of how we are sometimes portrayed in the mainstream media. To understand better Southern Baptists’ views on this issue, I urge you to look to our Web site,, and Baptist Press, and not rely solely on national press reports.

Please take the time to look over our entire overview of immigration reform.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Citizenship, Immigration,


1 On Apr 4, 2007, at 1:22am, Mel Ingram wrote:

The people you’re talking about are in our country ILLEGALLY, and that’s a crime! God’s people can love these lawbreakers without dismissing their crime or giving them permission to continue flaunting their illegality. 

‘Grace’ is the unmerited divine assistance given man for the purpose of his regeneration or sanctification. God’s grace entails mercy and pardon. No one, including “very hard-working illegals” deserves God’s free, unmerited grace! They all must pay for their illegal violation of our immigration laws.

Are we to “overlook” crime just because someone is “hard-working”?  What does such “tolerance” say to those who await their chance to commit such crimes?

You have over-stepped your authority, miss-applied holy scripture, sanctioned breaking the immigration laws of America, and thoroughly discredited yourself concerning this particular issue. 


2 On Apr 4, 2007, at 2:04am, steve wrote:

If Christians don’t want to appear hypocritical in the immigration debate then I suggest you need to amend some of your scriptures. A good start could be “… as we forgive them who trespass against us once they’ve learned English and paid a fine etc”.

3 On Apr 4, 2007, at 4:08am, Phil Aldridge wrote:

The laws duly enacted and currently on the books provide for deportation and NO REENTRY to the United States for ten years for being in the country illegally. Not enforcing that provision is nothing more or less than amnesty from it. And why do you hold up the false choice of Amnesty or deportation en masse. It took 21 years of non enforcement for us to acquire 12 to 20 million illegal aliens. Let our public officials begin to enforce the law FAITHFULLY in the manner their sworn oath prescribes and the illegal alien population will mostly deport itself. Your moral quandry, is not from lack of a way, it’s from a lack of a will.

4 On Apr 4, 2007, at 4:54pm, Greg Nimmo, Director of Missions / Crittenden Bapt wrote:

Dr. Land:

Something has to be done! Here at the Crittenden Baptist Association we have a mission ministry to Hispanic individuals. Our Hispanic pastor informed us a couple of meetings ago that almost 99% of the Hispanic individuals coming to the mission were illegal. What do we do? We feel an obligation to help these individuals spiritually; but, on the flip side, feel like we may be braking the law in providing a place for these individuals to gather and worship. We’re not the only ministry that feels this way. Can you offer any suggestions?

Greg Nimmo, DOM

5 On Apr 4, 2007, at 7:05pm, Don wrote:

Dear Dr. Land,
You said a few times in your article on immigration reform,”...if I were in congress.” If you were, I for one would be delighted! Thank you for your work at erlc. Don’t rule out public service.

Your brother in Christ,

6 On Apr 4, 2007, at 7:22pm, Betty Jo Cook Van wrote:

Thank you for your work and words on behalf of Southern Baptist.  We could say it no better.  The government officials should stand to do the job as they were elected and enforce our laws.

7 On Apr 5, 2007, at 12:04am, C. Phillips wrote:

In your article you said you support an ‘earned pathway to citizenship’ is not amnesty.  What is amnesty?  It is a pathway to citizenship. Giving citizenship to illegals is amnesty.  I guess your buddies in the Council on Foreign Relations have gotten thru to you.

8 On Apr 5, 2007, at 3:13am, Ashli A. wrote:

Is the immigration law promulgated by Congress malum prohibitum or malum in se?  I would argue that the current immigration law is malum prohibitum and is not of the kind written on the hearts of man.  In suggesting new immigration law to be codified, we must consider what it is that we cannot not know in regard to this matter.  As we seek first the Kingdom of God and participate in that reality with Him, may we emulate the ethics of the One in whom we should be apprenticing.

Before Southern Baptists encourage our federal government to enforce back taxes of illegal immigrants, one must consider the empathy Christ must have toward the majority of this people group—- although not universally true, this group has no monetary savings, no bank account, and are probably working without being paid a decent wage.

9 On Apr 5, 2007, at 4:19am, Deb wrote:

“Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.” James 5, v4. This is the truthful application of scripture to the illegal alien question. It is a scheme by greedy men, unwilling to obey the law, who have bought influence both in and out of government. They wish to keep back a just wage from legal American Labourers. Where Mr. Land is your compassion and justice for them?

10 On Apr 5, 2007, at 9:17pm, Betty Jo Cook Van wrote:

Do my ears deceive me?  Comments I am reading seem to attack Mr. Land for his stand on the laws of OUR land.  America has on its books a legal way to enter OUR country.  What is so wrong with standing up for that?  If Americans have to pay for wrong doing, why should not illegals do the same?  Then if they still wish to become Americans and pay their due as stated, get in line behind those who are abiding by OUR laws.  Go back to Romans 13:1-7.  God instigated laws and OUR country based OUR laws on HIS.  Our county is now reaping what we have allowed.  How long must God stay His hand?  What part did you miss?

11 On Apr 7, 2007, at 5:22am, Willard H. Duffey, Sr wrote:

It appears that when Dr. Land indicates that words have specific meanings and cannot be subjectively changed has not been in or around Washington DC long enough. Politicians have been changing the meaning of words to fit their own definitions for a long time.

An illegal immigrant has violated the laws of this country, nonwithstanding the reason he/she entered the country . Punishment by law, as I understand it, is arrest and deportation. This would give one criminal status and therefore should prevent him/her from ever receiving US citizenship. Anything less than this is a form of AMNESTY, regardless of how you want to define it. The rhetoric about the proposed immigration legislation is 99% snow.

Rigid enforcement of our existing immigration law will result in fewer jobs for illegals and with no jobs, they will leave voluntarily. They are then free to try immigrating legally.

12 On Apr 7, 2007, at 7:00am, Nancy Wilking wrote:

Look up the history of Rome and Greece, look what happened to them when they let so many people into their countrys. Greed took over and they lost it all. Greed is taking over our country by cheap labor, stealing, and not following the laws that our forfathers wrote to protect us.  We already let into our country more than any other country in the world legally.

13 On Apr 10, 2007, at 11:06pm, Terry Lucas wrote:

It is easy to agree with the SBC resolution concerning aliens and those that hire them.  The real problem is the actions and accountability that each individual chooses to accept as their very own.  God loves me and I must show his love to others.  God also loves me so much he has and will hold me accountable for breaking His commandments and the just laws of the United States.  The fact that individuals in our government have not chosen to enforce some just laws and obey God’s laws can only be overcome when God’s people, including me, open themselves to the truth of 2nd Chronicles 7:14 and a “Great Awakening” to God’s truth turns Americans’ hearts back to Him.  I know our country’s alien problem and many other problems will never be solved correctly unless God’s people show God’s overwhelming love and justice for all people.  I am not persuaded that Dr. Land’s position is as firm on accountability as it is on love.  There must be a proper balance.

14 On Apr 11, 2007, at 1:54am, Rev. Ed. Cluck wrote:

Dear Dr. Land:

Although I was not at the last Southern Baptist Convention I want to say I’m very proud of the stand the Convention took regarding illegal immigration.. Your answer to the critics on this matter was beautiful. Thank you and keep up the good work, our prayers are with you.

Rev. Ed. Cluck

15 On Apr 11, 2007, at 9:02pm, James Matthews wrote:

Dear Dr. Land,

  Peter tells us we are to obey the laws and Government that we currently have.  If the Government is not enforcing existing laws, they are being unlawful and this should be addressed by we the people.  If someone sneaks into your house uninvited, and helps himself to everything you have earned by the sweat of your brow, but feels he deserves what you have and more for nothing, I call that a thief and he should be dealt with as a thief.  We forgave four million thieves in 1986, a third of them are still on welfare.  That number was too large to verify who was a felonious criminal, and have them pay fines.  No one did,so what ever they said was accetted as gospel truth. Thus the problem is fourfold worse and growing.  Compassion and love does not eliminate the need to uphold and support our laws.

16 On May 8, 2007, at 11:22pm, Rhea Metcalf wrote:

While I may attend a Southern Baptist Church, neither the SBC nor Dr. Land speak for me on this issue.  Our elected officials placed their hand on God’s Holy Word and swore to uphold the laws of this land.  They obviously are not doing so.
Illegal means a lawbreaker!!!!!

17 On Jul 28, 2007, at 11:05am, sean mckenzie wrote:

Dr. Land:

Your comments on immigration are very thoughtful.
Particularly your response to the “amnesty” label
is the best I’ve heard.

However, I wish you would take more forceful leadership
on the issue. After the failure of the immigration bill, your postmortem that Congress failed to
fashion a bill that got consensus support seems awfully
weak.  Perhaps strong Southern Baptist backing would
have generated that support.  Baptists could be the
“tipping point” on this issue, but you seem to lack
the courage of your convictions.

At any rate consensus is not nearly as big a concern for Christians as justice is.  Pontias Pilate acted according to consensus.  We Christians have to take a stand, even and especially when it’s unpopular.
12 million souls desperately need your leadership on
this issue, sir.  Thank you.

18 On Jul 31, 2007, at 8:28pm, Betty Jo Cook Van wrote:

The 12 million plus souls of those illegals do need help.  Southern Baptist do all humanly possible to meet needs, spiritual and physical wherever they occur.  These illegals are not beyond that help.  They also need to abide by the law.  For Americans, Baptists, or individuals to turn their backs on the laws of OUR country would be wrong.  As Baptists we have never refused the needs of any individual or country where help was requested.  An example would be the earthquakes in Mexico.  We did not turn our backs, but stepped up to help feed and minister as their own laws allowed. The issue has adequately, positively and sensitively been addressed.  Thank you for your perceptive discernment and actions on behalf of Southern Baptists.

19 On Aug 8, 2007, at 12:42pm, James E. Matthews, US Army First Sergeant (retired wrote:

Dear Dr. Land,

    While stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, I worked in a food pantry supported by local SBC churches.  I had a family of five come for assistance, food, clothing, etc. because the father of that family can not compete with illegal foreign nationals.  Twenty of them live in a house together, they claim Government benefits for family (70%) who are still back home.  But there is no help for this out of work construction worker who can’t support his family on four dollars an hour.  Where is the compassion and love for this American down on his luck due to our governments failure to secure our borders, and protect the american worker from unfair unlawful, foreign workers.  You need to stay out of politics and worry more about the American working poor, than the four billion in the rest of the world!

20 On Aug 8, 2007, at 5:53pm, Moderator wrote:

The article Biblical Directives for Combating Hunger and Poverty may be of interest to those who, like Sergeant Matthews, have a passion for helping those in need.

Additionally, this page will provide a number of articles on poverty, hunger, and homelessness.


21 On Aug 8, 2007, at 7:08pm, Betty Jo Cook Van wrote:

Southern Baptist publications have shown we are all about assistance with our own citizens and the illegals while they are on our doorstep.  Enforcement of laws by our country should be enforced in the hiring of illegals.  That would be the springboard for assistance to our citizens.  Christians need to vote their convictions for those who enforce, or not, those laws.  Thank you Dr. Land and Southern Baptists for all you are doing to represent us.

22 On Sep 4, 2007, at 5:20am, Mary Lou wrote:

The reform mentioned at the beginning sounds exactly like a politician.  It covers both sides.

More and more southern Baptists are simply calling themselves Christians.

We do not need you to tell us what we should believe.  Who are you?  I listen to God, not you!

23 On Sep 4, 2007, at 11:18pm, Betty Jo Cook Van wrote:

Whoa!  No one on this commentary I have read has put themselves in God’s position.  We have a man representing us and keeping us informed on current issues and all some can do is shout at him.  God directs us to be informed and unless we pay attention to those in whom we have put our trust to inform us, we will all have a lot more on our platter than we can handle.  I appreciate the insights put here and do not feel I am being directed to listen to anyone above God.

24 On Sep 5, 2007, at 12:11am, Mel Ingram wrote:

Back on Apr 3rd, 2007, I started this whole string of comment.  Now, on Aug 8th, 2007, the “Moderator” (whoever that anonymous person is)  wrote: “...this page will provide a number of articles on poverty, hunger, and homelessness.”

You seem to insinuate that “the opposition” to illegal immigration needs instruction in compassion for the poor, the hungry and the homeless. Apparently, Mr./Ms. Moderator, you just don’t get it.

Do you also intend to provide a number of articles on crime by Illegal Aliens in the U.S.?  What about a series of articles on the aggregate amount of taxes extracted from U.S. citizens to pay for the medical, education and welfare of these Illegals?  What’s good for the goose seems good enough for the gander, my friend!!! 

As Christians, we should provide all due respect and compassionate care for these Illegal interlopers after they’ve been taken into custody and are awaiting expulsion. The Lord demands no less from His people!

Mel Ingram

25 On Sep 5, 2007, at 10:30pm, PhilA. wrote:

Contrary to the article cited by the moderator there is no biblical imperative for coercive taxation and the redistribution of wealth in the name of charity. I am old enough to have seen the destructiveness of this lack of personal responsibility on American society.  Indeed the redistribution of the rights and property(voting,social security, medical care etc.) of legal citizens to those who have broken the law by entering our country illegally is theft not charity.

26 On Oct 12, 2007, at 5:39am, sean mckenzie wrote:

I would like to thank Dr. Land for responding to
my ajc article.  I also continue to believe that
you have in your hands, Dr. Land, the power to
get a bill passed.  You write the bill and get someone
to sponsor it.  Find the language that can generate
the consensus.  You’ve got it in you.  All those hours
of working and praying - faith and works - have put
it there.  Now is the time to act. 

Thanks again for your insight on the issue.  Let’s
not wait until after the election to act - too
many people are living in fear.

Sean McKenzie

27 On Oct 12, 2007, at 8:59pm, James E. Matthews wrote:

Dear Moderator,
  I, also have submitted several comments on illegal immigrants.  The bottom line is we as baptists are primarily responsible for their spiritual health, not their physical.  We should be against this coercive support of lawbreakers by U.S. taxpayers.  We are obligated to support the rule of law as it is now in effect.  Which is these people have broken the law(s) and should be deported to their country of origin.  Anything more than that, then we are supporting anarchy over the rule of law, and are not doing our Christian duty to the State.  Until the law is changed, it is wrong to do otherwise and a sin.

28 On Oct 12, 2007, at 11:23pm, AA wrote:

Dear Mr. Matthews,

Where do you find support for your idea that we as Christ followers are only responsible, let alone accountable, for others’ spiritual health and not their physical health? How does not caring for anothers’ physical needs exemplify anything we’ve been taught by Scripture?

Would you follow the rule of law if it is contrary to divine or natural law? Numerous Nazis at the Nuremburg trials were found guilty even though they argued that they followed the rule of law set out before them. The prosecutors argued that natural law prohibits following man-made law when it is contrary to what we as humans cannot not know. However, there should be a higher standard for Christ-followers than what all man-kind cannot not know. Do you not agree?

I commend your noble effort in attempting to discern right from wrong in this moral dilemna. I do hope you will consider the difference between man-made law and natural law and when the two conflict.

29 On Oct 17, 2007, at 10:13pm, James Matthews, US Army,1SG, retired wrote:

Dear AA,

    If you had read it carefully I said primarily responsible for their spiritual needs.  Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, not to bring the whole world to your sovereign country, and then preach to them.  Meeting the physical needs of foreigners is how to connect with them, so that one has the opportunity to share the gospel.  Every nation on earth has the God given right to control who and what crosses their borders.  We are the only nation that is saddling its citizens with the debt of the world’s poor.  Bad economic policies led to Hitler and nazis, caos, and it will doom this nation if we do not control our own borders and enforce our laws.  By the way have you been to a nazi concentration camp?  I have, and it is an unspeakable sadness that comes over you when you are there.  My wife is German and we are pro immigration, just do it legally.

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