The Common Good
September-October 2012

How to Change Politics

by Jim Wallis | September-October 2012

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in a broken system.

THIS SUMMER, in a historic development, nearly 150 evangelical leaders signed an “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.” Signers came from across the spectrum of evangelicalism, from leading Latino evangelical organizations to pastors Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in a broken system. It was exciting to see a unity across the traditional political spectrum that rarely happens in Washington.

Make no mistake: There are still big gaps in theology and politics among those in the group. But rather than politics, we focused on the things we agreed were fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives. Instead of ideology, we came together because of morality and common sense.

Big things don’t change in Washington first; they change in the nation’s capital last. You’d think that with all the lobbyists on K Street and the billions of dollars being spent, Washington must be the country’s most important place. But this is the place where things don’t change, where politics maintains the status quo and the special interests maintain their own interests. Both Republicans and Democrats are more concerned with their political bases and getting re-elected than with the people and families whose lives are being crushed.

Things change when hearts and minds across the country change. Things change when people’s understandings change, when families rethink their values, when congregations examine their faith, when communities get mobilized, and when nations are moved by moral imperatives. Things change when people believe that more than politics is at stake, that human lives, human dignity, and even faith are at stake. And when moral values change, culture changes—and then change comes to Washington.

The Bible says that immigrants fall into the category of “the stranger,” and Jesus says how we treat them is how we treat him. Many of them are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We have come to know them and to love them; we’ve come to see how their families are being torn apart, and their lives are in danger. And we believe that breaks the heart of God and calls us to action.

Together, we will tell our political representatives that it is time to shed their partisan behavior and implement a moral and biblical imperative. We believe Washington will change and enact comprehensive immigration reform because the people of God have come together to begin that change in our lives and our churches.

The same day the evangelical statement was released, a delegation of evangelical leaders had a long meeting at the White House, followed the next day by meetings with Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Our message to both was the same: It’s time to rise above our partisan political deadlock and do the right thing.

On Friday of that week, we got a call from the White House, telling us that the president had decided to make a major announcement. He announced a new policy of “prosecutorial discretion” for nearly 1 million undocumented young people. It provided immunity from deportation for those who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been here for at least five years, have no criminal history, and graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED, or served in the military.

The announcement was good news for young people who have a dream of staying in the country where they have lived most of their lives. Instead of being placed in the deportation pipeline, they can receive work permits enabling them to contribute to the nation and help build America’s future.  It was an important step, but only a beginning toward true comprehensive immigration reform.

Two days later, on Sunday, there was great joy in churches across the country, with many celebrations of Christians, both Latino and Anglo—often together—singing, dancing, and praising God. It was also Father’s Day, and many immigrant fathers felt for the first time in their lives the relief of not having their children living in the shadows of fear. And from almost a million young immigrants in the United States, there were many grateful tears.

Both political sides and the media said that the statement by such a unified and influential group of evangelical Christian leaders made an enormous difference and created the space and support for political leaders to do the right thing. The week had opened the door for a new bipartisan hope for immigration reform. But it was a bipartisan result that neither side in politics had been willing or able to accomplish. It took moral pressure from outside the political system to get the system to slowly begin to work. And that is often the way that politics changes—especially on the big things.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

Image: Immigration reform activist, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

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