Old-Time Religion and New Americans

Hispanic evangelical leaders join to push for compassionate immigration reform

Dr. Ralph Holland, pastor of Mundo de Fe, Covenant Church's Hispanic ministry and one of the largest in Dallas with around 2,000 members, has held prayer meetings with the intention of helping the president and Congress come up with a solution for the immigration problem. While Holland says he doesn't want to be directly involved politically, he holds the U.S. government responsible for failing to enforce the law and supports some sort of overhaul. "I teach that we're to obey the laws of the land, but some people found themselves in a difficult situation because our laws were not being enforced and so consequently, they're here," he says, adding that mass deportation would be a crisis because immigrants' home countries couldn't re-absorb them and "we need them."

The steady conversion of Hispanics to Pentecostalism throughout Latin America and in the United States may account for the recent evangelical push for immigration reform. According to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, 43 percent of evangelical Hispanics say they used to be Catholic, and 29 percent of Hispanics who attend church services say they speak in tongues, a practice identified with Pentecostals but not all evangelical churches. Just 11 percent of non-Hispanics said they speak in tongues.

Holland rejected suggestions that recent advocacy on the part of evangelicals can be directly tied to the growth of Hispanics in Pentecostal churches, and Gonzales stresses that it's not just Hispanics who are pushing for a more just immigration system. He says the coalition has received support from black Christian leaders such as Harry Jackson, senior pastor of a 3,000-member church in Maryland, as well as Anglo Christians such as Osteen and Land. "We have to educate our Anglo and African-American brothers and sisters that we're not looking for amnesty, we're looking for a process," Gonzales says. "If it doesn't happen by August it will be an issue for the next president. Our country can't afford that."

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