Once again, Brent Leatherwood, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), is positioning himself as the singular voice of Southern Baptists, promoting progressive policies that do not align with the majority sentiment within the Convention. Leatherwood, just last month, attempted to rally support for gun control measures in Tennessee on behalf of the Southern Baptist community. This push for what is widely considered a minority view within the SBC, and certainly not a biblical view, further emphasizes the disconnect between Leatherwood’s personal political agenda and the broader perspectives within the Southern Baptist community.
Now, he’s doing it again. In a May 12 open letter to Congress, Leatherwood has sparked another controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention. Leatherwood’s perspective on immigration and the ‘pathway to citizenship’ not only fails to represent the conservative views within the rank-and-file SBC, but also represents a departure from a Biblical perspective that many Southern Baptists uphold.
Keep in mind, rank-and-file Southern Baptists don’t get to attend annual meetings and vote on policies and the annual meetings are designed in such a way to exclude the masses of smaller, more conservative churches that can’t afford to fly their messengers across the country for several days to attend and vote. That’s another issue, but not one that is irrelevant to the current political crisis in the denomination.
Leatherwood, again assuming to speak on behalf of the SBC, advocates for a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, essentially calling for amnesty. However, this policy is not shared by a considerable number of Southern Baptists who view such a policy as a violation of the rule of law, a potential catalyst for further illegal immigration, and a potential threat to the economic and cultural fabric of our nation.
More significantly, Leatherwood’s interpretation of Biblical teachings pertaining to “sojourners” or “foreigners” is fundamentally flawed. By conflating illegal immigrants with the Biblical notion of the vulnerable and persecuted, Leatherwood oversimplifies a complex issue and steps away from a sound Biblical perspective.
The Bible’s call to care for the persecuted and vulnerable should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of open-border policies or a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. It’s a call for compassion and care, but it does not negate the importance of maintaining the integrity of national borders and upholding the rule of law.
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The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2018 resolution on immigration which Leatherwood references in his open letter to Congress makes an unbiblical leap in equating biblical “strangers” and “foreigners” with today’s “illegal immigrants”. The historical context of these biblical terms reveals a different reality: “strangers” and “foreigners” were non-Israelites who had legally integrated into ancient Israel’s theocratic system, respecting its laws and customs.
The New Testament passages cited in the resolution, such as Matthew 25:35–40 and Hebrews 13:2, advocate for generosity and love toward all human beings. However, they do not directly address the complex matters of national security, economic stability, and the rule of law that are inherent to modern immigration policy. Upholding these principles does not negate our call as Christians to demonstrate compassion and hospitality.
The resolution’s assertion that God commands equal respect for immigrants and the native-born is indisputable. Yet, the Bible also stresses the importance of respecting and upholding the law (Romans 13:1-7). Our Christian responsibilities include both love for our neighbor and respect for societal order. It’s a false dichotomy to believe that these principles cannot coexist in our approach to immigration policy.
These Biblical principles of justice and respect for the law are of great importance. As Christians, Southern Baptists are called to adhere to the laws of the land and to promote a society that respects these laws. Leatherwood’s call for amnesty, veiled as a “pathway to citizenship,” fundamentally undermines these principles.
The implication that Leatherwood’s views represent the consensus within the SBC is misleading. The SBC, with its 50,000 or so churches and congregations, is a diverse body and its views on immigration are correspondingly varied. But even then, biblical orthodoxy is not determined by how many congregations or individual Christians hold to it. Yet, by presenting his viewpoint as the definitive Southern Baptist stance—one that is clearly not grounded in sound biblical theology—Leatherwood disrespects the multitude of Southern Baptists who hold different, and often opposing perspectives.
Leatherwood’s stance on immigration is far from representing a universally accepted Biblical perspective. As Southern Baptists, it’s critical to engage with this issue in a way that respects sound biblical theology and upholds the shared commitment to the rule of law. This includes promoting true biblical justice, respecting the borders, and de-incentivizing illegal immigration.