As a small group of Upstate ministers visits Capitol Hill this week to lobby South Carolina’s congressional delegation in support of comprehensive immigration reform, how far the evangelical flock back home is willing to follow remains very much in question.
It’s a concern that surely occupies the minds of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s campaign staff, as the senior senator and Tea Party antagonist with bipartisan tendencies gambles again on achieving a broad immigration deal — one that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already here — before next year’s election.
It’s this sort of center-right leadership that has drawn him three hard-right primary challengers and earned him the sobriquet “Sen. Graham-nesty.” But this go-round, Graham has unprecedented political cover in the form of church leadership — not the brimming-with-tolerance liberal sort either, but Southern Baptists of both the mega-church and the back-road ilk.
That said, it’s a public relations firm closely aligned with Graham, the Greenville-based Felkel Group, that has organized and promoted the pastors’ trip to Washington, D.C., and conflicting convictions on immigration continue to be hotly felt across the Palmetto State.
“I haven’t seen an issue like this in quite a while — a lot of passion on both sides,” says Oran P. Smith of Palmetto Family, an evangelical group that hasn’t taken a position on the issue. He says the divide runs between those who want a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country and those that want to focus on enforcing current immigration laws and view a path to citizenship as amnesty.
“You’ll have those on the enforce-the-law side insist that that’s the Biblical position, that there’s respect for law built into the Scripture,” Smith says. “The path-to-citizenship supporters say it’s reflective of Christ’s command to welcome the stranger and feel that they are just as scripturally sound as the other side.”
Rev. Jim Goodroe of the Spartanburg County Baptist Network vocally represents the latter camp, having narrated an ad paid for by the national Evangelical Immigration Table that ran on about 15 Christian radio stations in South Carolina earlier this year.
Goodroe says an increased familiarity with growing immigrant communities has contributed to a “slight shift” among South Carolina’s Christian evangelicals on the immigration question, but he says the chief catalyst has been theological.
“Evangelicals are waking up to just how much the Bible does have to say about immigrants, and, as evangelicals, what the Bible says carries a whole lot of weight,” Goodroe says.
Goodroe cites the “Great Commission,” the instructions that a resurrected Jesus Christ gave his disciples to spread his teachings, according to the gospels of the New Testament. These are the Biblical passages upon which the evangelical practice of proselytizing is founded.
“Probably the biggest eye opener for evangelicals is that this is a missions mandate we have, and the people that we’ve always been responsible for reaching all over the world, God has now been sending them here in large numbers in the last couple of decades,” he says.
But, as Goodroe concedes, not all evangelicals are eager to come around. Asked whether he’d sensed any discernible opinion shift, S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), a self-identifying evangelical Christian and “lead sponsor of the toughest immigration bill in the nation” voiced skepticism.
“It sounds more like a political consulting group trying to give the impression that the evangelical community in this state is embracing something that it’s not,” Grooms says.
Likewise, Richard Cash, one of Graham’s GOP primary challengers who brandishes his Bible proudly, sees the evangelical push for reform as top-down stage management.
“It’s a very gut-level kind of issue. It might not be quite as visceral as Second Amendment or pro-life, but it’s not too far beyond that for some people,” Cash says, adding, “Their convictions tend to run pretty deep, and some statements by leaders are not necessarily going to switch their minds.”
Cash went on to say that while the Bible does instruct Christians to help the weak and vulnerable, that mandate should not negate the rule of law, the conservative principle prominent in the Old Testament.
“I think the breakdown happens when people try to make that jump, saying this applies to people who have broken our laws to come here illegally. You’re not going to find the word ‘illegal’ before the word ‘alien’ in the Bible,” Cash says.
Goodroe acknowledges that he might have upset a few folks, but he says the grievances have numbered in single digits.
“Most of the criticisms are prefaced by one of two things: Either real early in the conversation, they tell you they’re against Obama, and [immigration reform] helps Obama; or they say the administration has not been enforcing the immigration laws that we do have, and there’s no reason to change them if the government is not going to enforce them anyway,” he says.
But those arguments don’t detract from Goodroe’s belief that, as he puts it, “the Bible is one of the most pro-immigrant books around.”
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
Four Miles, Twelve Doughnuts
Winston’s Wish aims to increase knowledge and understanding of children with autism, and you can help by participating in the 4.donut Race on October 25th. Start at Edventure Children’s Museum, run 2 miles to Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back! Registration is required and can be done here before October 23rd at 5 p.m.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ
Join The Palladium Society Thursday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m. for its 11th annual silent auction, featuring music by The Mustache Brothers and catering by Bourbon and The Oak Table. Tickets are $30 at the door and include admission, drinks, and food. Get yours online now!
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently seeking a friendly & detail-oriented individual for an Administrative Assistant/Data Entry Clerk position on our Administrative Office team. Primary responsibilities include: Data entry, process incoming & outgoing mail, good communication skills required. Contact: email@example.com.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Cupcake now hiring a closing manager. Must be outgoing, customer service focused, able to work evenings and weekends. Apply in person. 1213 Lincoln Street, Columbia SC 29201. freshcupcakes.com
Real Estate Spotlight
The Lake Carolina new home community has it all! 1 YMCA, 3 pools, 10 parks, 20+ community events each year, and much more! Learn more. www.lakecarolina.com