On October 8, 2009, the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) adopted a resolution on immigration. That was the result of study and discussion by evangelical scholars, churchmen, and ministry practitioners over a period of about 18 months. Shortly after the release of the document, reports from several sources circulated via the Internet asserted that: (1) the NAE advocates open borders, (2) the NAE advocates blanket amnesty, and (3) every denomination that is a member of the NAE endorses open borders and blanket amnesty. These assertions are incorrect.
The PCA is a member of the NAE. As the stated clerk of the General Assembly of the PCA, I am a member of the NAE board of directors. Since October of 2006, I have been serving as the chair of the board and of the executive committee. I chaired the board meeting of October 8, 2009. So I have some insight on the NAE in general and the resolution in particular.
The NAE seeks to model biblical-theological reflection and “civil discourse” on matters Christians face in our ever-changing culture. Immigration is one of those issues. The task of theological reflection is to bring the Holy Scriptures in their explicit teaching and properly derived principles (see Westminster Confession I-6) to bear on matters of faith and life. The NAE Immigration Resolution seeks to combine the compassion toward immigrants required in Mosaic Law and obedience to just laws of civil government required in Romans 13 in our present situation.
The NAE Immigration Resolution of 2009, in my view, is a biblically-based, theologically reflective, carefully balanced, concise document. The Immigration Resolution has a discussion section, an action-steps section, and a listing of resources for study. Those who wish to make an informed decision may read the resolution here.
In response to the three incorrect assertions:
- The Immigration Resolution does not call for open borders; it calls for secure borders with an enforcement that is efficient and respectful of human dignity.
- The Immigration Resolution does not call for blanket amnesty; it calls for earned citizenship.
- The member denominations of the NAE have not endorsed open borders and blanket amnesty.
With regard to border security and enforcement, the resolution urges, “National borders must be safeguarded with efficiency and respect for human dignity.” That is not advocacy of open borders. It is a call for the efficient and humane enforcement of the law.
Concerning the allegation that the NAE advocates blanket amnesty, the resolution urges, “There must be a sound, equitable process for currently undocumented immigrants who wish to assume the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship to earn legal status.” That is not saying that each and every immigrant now residing in the United States, no matter how he or she arrived here, should be given citizenship unconditionally. Nor is it a statement that all immigrants who entered this country improperly should be rounded up and immediately jailed or deported. It is what it says—a call for earned citizenship through a sound and equitable process.
Concerning the claim that member denominations have endorsed open borders and blanket amnesty, several things need to be said. First, the Immigration Resolution does not advocate open borders and blanket amnesty. Second, no resolution of the NAE becomes the official policy of any member denomination, unless that denomination, through its own denominational polity, takes action to endorse an NAE resolution. Several (though not all) NAE member denominations have endorsed the resolution.
Third, the NAE Immigration Resolution of 2009 has not become the PCA position on immigration. In accordance with our Presbyterian polity, for any matter to become an official position of the denomination there would have to be either (1) an amendment to our constitution (the Westminster Confession, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order), (2) an action of a General Assembly speaking to a specific issue, which action our Book of Church Order [BCO] calls “deliverances, resolutions, or overtures,” or (3) a judicial decision (BCO 14-7). The strongest action would be an amendment to the Constitution (BCO 26-2; 26-3).
“Deliverances, resolutions, or overtures” adopted by a General Assembly reflect the opinion of a majority of commissioners to that particular General Assembly on a specific issue at that time. Judicial decisions of the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly are binding on the parties to specific cases. Both “deliverances, resolutions, or overtures” and judicial decisions “are to be given due and serious consideration by the Church and its lower courts when deliberating matters related to such action” (BCO 14-7).
Neither “deliverances, resolutions or overtures,” nor judicial decisions amend the Constitution of the Church. Neither would have the force of a constitutional amendment. There is no proposal to amend the PCA Constitution in light of any resolution of the NAE (or any other interchurch body of which the PCA is a member). The NAE’s adoption of the Immigration Resolution does not of itself put the issue before the General Assembly. There is no judicial case that involves the Immigration Resolution. Therefore, the NAE Immigration Resolution of 2009 has not become the PCA position on immigration.
Internet exchanges cannot always be characterized as “civil discourse.” Moreover, emotionally laden issues, such as immigration, are subject to the emotion-trumps-logic phenomenon. I hope that this response contributes to “civil discourse,” gives factual input, and defuses some of the emotion of the issue.
Dr. L. Roy Taylor is the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America.