Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Moral Issue: Some Religious Leaders Active, Others Silent on Oklahoma Immigration

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Moral Issue: Some Religious Leaders Active, Others Silent on Oklahoma Immigration

Article excerpt

For several years now Oklahomans have argued about immigration using three basic concepts: laws, money and policy.

But the fourth component of the immigration debate, the moral issue, has been largely ignored by the general public, the Legislature, and even a majority of Oklahoma's religious community.

Although some faith leaders have lobbied the Oklahoma Legislature for a compassionate approach on immigration, neither the state's largest faith group - Southern Baptists - nor the majority of Oklahoma's 2,000-plus churches have publicly addressed the issue.

"Ten years ago, in the old days, there was more involvement," said Father Michael Chapman, a Catholic priest who has been active in the immigrant community. "But today the churches, the media and other groups are very neutral. I don't know why."

That silence, it seems, depends on the denomination.

Despite repeated attempts, neither officials at the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention nor those with the Southern Hills Baptist Church - considered one of the state's mega-churches - could be reached for comment.

But other groups, including Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, have publicly called on the country's evangelical leaders to speak up for their Hispanic brethren.

"I think evangelicals have said 'Enough is enough is enough,'" Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land told the magazine Christianity Today.

That may be happening in other states, but in Oklahoma the leader of Yukon's Trinity Baptist Church took the opposite approach. This spring, the Rev. Dan Fisher grilled Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele - himself a minister - asking Steele why lawmakers hadn't passed several anti-immigration bills.

"What do we do to be able to stop this shell game at the Legislature and get this stuff through?" Fisher said to a group of religious conservatives who call themselves the High Noon Club. "We elected people to go in there and change these things, and then somehow the leadership structure and the rules and everything that's set up ends up derailing all the very things we want the most."

Fisher's response was far different from those at an April rally sponsored by the Oklahoma branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens. There, Bruce Prescott, senior pastor of the Oklahoma Mainstream Baptist Church, said the lawmakers who pushed anti-immigration laws were trying to bully, persecute and intimate courageous people.

"People have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness wherever they were born," Prescott said. "If the law made it impossible for me to provide for my family, I would decide it was the law that was unjust."

Still other groups, including the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, called on state lawmakers to develop a "new and gracious tone" in the immigration debate. …

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