Immigration resolution seeks to balance Gospel, law
Thursday, Jun 16, 2011
By Tom Strode
PHOENIX (BP)--Messengers addressed the thorny issue of immigration by adopting a resolution that sought to promote the gospel of Jesus while calling for justice and compassion during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 14-15 in Phoenix.
The resolution on immigration was one of eight approved either unanimously or overwhelmingly during the morning and afternoon sessions June 15.
In an unusual move, messengers called to the floor and passed a resolution on the "gender-neutral 2011 New International Version" (NIV) that was not reported to the convention by the Resolutions Committee.
Among the other resolutions adopted were ones affirming biblical teaching on the reality of hell, religious liberty throughout the world, corporate repentance, civility in public discourse and marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
The immigration resolution -- adopted by what appeared to be about 70 to 80 percent of the messengers -- urged Southern Baptist churches to proclaim Christ and minister in His spirit to everyone, regardless of their "immigration status." It said "any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
The measure called for the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials "to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country."
The resolution's paragraph on instituting a process for illegal immigrants to gain legal status after the securing of the borders and with restitution elicited an amendment that produced the most floor debate during the resolutions report. Final action on the resolution was delayed from the morning to afternoon session when the vote on the amendment was too close to call and required a ballot vote.
Richard Huff, a messenger from Corona de Tucson Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz., introduced the amendment, which would have deleted the paragraph in question. In support of his amendment, Huff said from the floor, "[T]he principle is that citizenship is a right of people that are here under legal processes, and you do not want to make this something you are rewarding people who are in violation of the law and they have no interest in being here legally."
Paul Jimenez, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, urged messengers to defeat the amendment. He said the committee members think the resolution is "a realistic and biblical approach to immigration" and removing the language affected by the amendment "would really weaken it in such a way that we would oppose it."
Messengers barely defeated Huff's amendment, 766-723 (51.3 percent to 48.4 percent).
In the afternoon session, messengers handily rejected an amendment that would have basically gutted the same paragraph. They backed an amendment offered by the committee, however, that clarified the resolution was "not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant."
In explaining the immigration resolution, Jimenez told messengers the committee's goal was that the measure "speak first and foremost to the pockets of lostness" in the United States. He said the resolution was built on a 2006 resolution but "moves us light years ahead when it comes to its Gospel-centeredness, as well as understanding how the culture itself is changing. And the culture itself is moving in such a way where immigrants in this country are in desperate need of the Gospel and their numbers are growing and growing at an exponential rate."
Regarding the public policy aspect, he said the committee decided "to state those principles as broadly as possible."
"We can present the Gospel while at the same time upholding the law of the land," said Jimenez, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. He said the resolution "is very strong; it is very balanced, leads with the Gospel but also takes into account our mandate to obey the laws of the land."
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, lauded the resolution at a news conference after the committee's final report, calling it "very statesman-like."
"This resolution upholds the rule of law," Land told reporters. "This resolution upholds the sovereignty of the United States, and this resolution seeks to deal compassionately and fairly and justly with those who are here in an undocumented status, and calls upon us to act as if this is a Gospel issue, which it is."
The NIV resolution overwhelmingly approved by messengers "expressed profound disappointment" with publication of the new translation and "respectfully request[ed] that LifeWay" not sell the version in its stores.
The resolution came to the floor when Indiana pastor Tim Overton persuaded messengers to address the 2011 version of the popular translation that his resolution said had "gone beyond acceptable translation standards" regarding gender. His resolution said 75 percent of the flawed gender translation in the TNIV appears in the new NIV. Southern Baptist messengers expressed their disapproval of the TNIV in a 2002 resolution.
Overton, pastor of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., told messengers the Southern Baptist Convention needed to address the issue in its role as a leading voice in the evangelical Christian community.
Speaking for the committee regarding its decision not to present Overton's measure, Russell Moore said the members did not believe the issue "rose to the level of needing to be addressed by this year's convention." Moore said the TNIV was "something of a stealth move," which was not true in this case. He also said the NIV is not in the same position now as it was in the past, since such translations as the Holman Christian Standard Bible and English Standard Version are now available. He also said the NIV is "just one of many Bibles out there [with] similar language."
The committee did not oppose passage of the resolution. At the news conference, Moore said, "The committee, of course, shares the concerns that were expressed in the resolution. The issue was not whether or not we would affirm the NIV and its changes but whether or not we thought the current changes were worthy of being addressed" at this year's meeting.
Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as teaching pastor for Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
The resolution on hell came as part of an ongoing response to the publication earlier this year of Michigan pastor Rob Bell's book "Love Wins." Bell's controversial book "called into question the church's historic teaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment of the unregenerate," as the resolution described it.
In adopting the resolution, messengers affirmed "our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in hell." The resolution also urged Southern Baptists "to proclaim faithfully the depth and gravity of sin against a holy God, the reality of hell, and the salvation of sinners by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone."
The other resolutions approved:
-- Reaffirmed the convention's belief that all people have religious freedom, meaning they possess the liberty "to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one's religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state." It also called for prayer for persecuted Christians throughout the world.
-- Urged President Obama to reverse course by ordering the Department of Justice to defend fully the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court and renewed the convention's call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. DOMA is a 1996 law that defines marriage federally as exclusively between a man and a woman and protects states from having to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where such unions are legal.
-- Called for corporate repentance and prayer, urging Southern Baptists to seek "a life of genuine repentance, Kingdom-focused prayer times for sweeping revival and spiritual awakening, and consistent prayer for specific lost people, missions, and ministry."
-- Encouraged civility in the public discussion of controversial issues and denounced "the speech or activities of any individual or group that brings shame upon the name of Christ and His gospel." It urged Southern Baptists "to speak biblically and authoritatively with conviction, kindness, and gentleness."
-- Thanked God and those He used in producing the annual meeting of Southern Baptists.
Ten resolutions were submitted for this year's meeting. The committee declined to act on some but addressed others in the final resolutions recommended to the messengers.
In addition to Jimenez and Moore, the other members of the committee were: Linda Clark, member, Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind.; Stephen Farish, senior pastor, Crossroads Church in Grayslake, Ill.; Mark Howell, senior pastor, Houston Northwest Church in Houston, Texas; Tim McCoy, senior pastor, Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon, Ga.; Michael Pigg, senior pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Jamie Work, pastor, Candies Creek Baptist Church in Charleston, Tenn., and Carol Yarber, member, First Baptist Church in Malakoff, Texas.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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