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Dr. Hunter's Testimony on Immigration to the Senate

On April 30, 2009, Northland's senior pastor, Dr. Joel C. Hunter, was a witness at a hearing on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?", scheduled by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees. Sen. Charles Schumer, who presided over the hearing, personally extended the invitation to participate to Dr. Hunter, who is a member of President Obama's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Following is the testimony offered by Dr. Hunter.

Thank you, Chairman Schumer, distinguished members of the subcommittee, esteemed colleagues on this panel, and other guests, for providing me an opportunity to speak on the moral and religious reasons for immigration reform.

I am a one of hundreds of thousands of local religious leaders in this country. I have been a pastor for almost 40 years and that is what I want to be in all my years remaining. Even though I am also in leadership positions of national and international groups that are dealing with immigration, it is at the local level that I am continually reminded that policy truly does hurt or help people.

In my faith tradition we all start as strangers and aliens, outsiders to the commonwealth of God. But because we have a God who was willing to do what it took to include us (at great personal cost), we "are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens..." (Ephesians 2:18-19a)

So I find it a high honor to speak to those in power as an advocate for those who have no power. In a verse that would be echoed in many religions, Proverbs 31:8 commands us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves."

"You will make known to me the path of life..." (Psalm 16:11) The hope of any religion is that those who have been on the wrong path can be set upon the right path. The need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform is to create a path that will help people do the right thing. A broken system produces a dysfunctional society, fractured families, and it increases the vulnerability of both legal and illegal residents. It helps criminals who thrive in the shadows and it harms decent people, consigning them to a life of insecurity, hiding, and minimal contribution to the general welfare.

A broken system produces both broken and crooked people. The cost to our nation in terms of productivity, national unity, and national security is depressing. But it does not compare to the damage being done to individuals and families.

A broken system tempts many to predatory practices. I cannot count the stories I have heard about attorneys taking the entire life savings of undocumented workers, producing no results, then abandoning those workers when the money was gone. Is that typical of the profession? We would not believe so. But "lead me not into temptation." It is a mighty temptation to de-prioritize those who are desperate and too intimidated to raise their voices to complain. And what about employers that take advantage of the powerless because there is no system of accountability? Or the bureaucrats that have no incentive to produce results (or even to keep track of the paperwork) because, who will know? Or the talk show hosts that increase their fame and fortune by picturing those without the proper papers only as conniving and dangerous parasites instead of persons made in the image of God, deserving both respect and help to do the right thing?

We are producing cottage industries of exploitation. We are also hearing millions of stories that are the opposite of the American dream.

My friend Rev. Silas Pintos tells of a family in his Hispanic congregation that came from England. Both the husband and wife were successful business people, and they hoped that in the U.S. their children would be immersed in a better environment for family values. So they came to start an alternative energy company.

After a two-year ordeal with the immigration system and absurd legal fees, the immigration department could not even clearly explain to them why their residency application had not gone through. They returned to England emotionally and financially devastated.

My friend Imam Mohammed Musri told me the wife of a 60 year old man in his congregation was very sick. The man had papers but when the attorney handling his case took a judgeship, the man was not told he needed to re-register. He was deported even though his wife was too sick to go with him. She was hospitalized and died without him because he could not get back into the country to be by her side.

Pastor Augustine Davies is on the staff at my church. He and his wife are from Sierra Leone and have just completed the long and arduous task of becoming citizens, but they have special relationships with many of the Africans inside and outside our congregation who are caught in the system. One of them is George.

George is from Liberia, West Africa. He is married and has four adult children who live in poverty back in his home country. When George arrived, INS approved the refugee for TPS. George completed a nursing program and got a job. He was turned down for TPS renewal, but now George feels the almost crushing pressure of providing for his family and other countrymen who need the money he can send them because of his job. He stays in the shadows for now. I do not agree with what he is doing, but I know his present life is because he loves his family, not because he is out for himself.

Our immigration system can also intimidate congregations as well as individuals and families. My friend Rabbi Steven Engel told me that his congregation had sponsored a family from Argentina to come to the U.S. The INS lost the paperwork many times, and they made regular visits to the synagogue, suspicious that the congregation might be doing something wrong. The whole process was so stressful and unwelcoming that when Sergio died from a heart attack at the age of 43 the remaining family returned to Argentina.

These stories and many others don't live up to the ideals of our country. We can do better, and we know it. Everyone is frustrated with the present system. Our immigration system in many cases has us echoing the words of the despairing saint who proclaimed, "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15)

The urgency for immigration reform that yields efficiency and compassion cannot be overstated because it is so overdue.

The moral principles for a better system Some of the central principles that comprise most major religions are also woven into our country's history and can be used as a standard for immigration reform:

These principles deem each person as valuable, "endowed by their Creator" with a dignity that transcends earthly circumstance. Therefore, our system must treat each person respectfully.

They acknowledge the family as the bedrock of personal and social development, and the support of the family as the foundation of a strong society. Therefore, our system should prioritize the family.

They see law as not only necessary for restraining evil, but as needed for structuring healthy relationships. It is right that wrongdoers are restrained and/or punished, but it is a better justice when the laws yield correction and the redemption of bad circumstances. Therefore, our system should have ways to choose to live upright lives after the penalties for wrong decisions.

So most people of faith are hoping for policies that will prioritize family togetherness, respect for the law, personal productivity, and compassion for those who are most helpless.

Conclusion We do not envy you your charge. Immigration reform is a morally complex as well as a politically explosive challenge. But many of us are praying earnestly for you and for God's wisdom in this matter.

Including the stranger is not just a matter of compassion but a necessity for greatness. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is not only a moral commandment but a path to national nobility, if we can build a nation of families and support networks that not only help the marginalized to be successful, but help the successful to be helpful, then we can better live up to our potential as a people.

In the end, I believe our nation will be not be judged by the productivity of our budgets, or the genius of our laws, or even the earnestness of our faith communities. We will be judged, both by history and by God, by the way we treated people, especially those who needed our help.

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Without a Pastor of His Own, Obama Turns to Five

From The New York Times, By LAURIE GOODSTEINPresident Obama has been without a pastor or a home church ever since he cut his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. in the heat of the presidential campaign. But he has quietly cultivated a handful of evangelical pastors for private prayer sessions on the telephone and for discussions on the role of religion in politics.

All are men, two of them white and three black - including the Rev. Otis Moss Jr., a graying lion of the civil rights movement. Two, the entrepreneurial dynamos Bishop T. D. Jakes and the Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, also served as occasional spiritual advisers to President George W. Bush. Another, the Rev. Jim Wallis, leans left on some issues, like military intervention and poverty programs, but opposes abortion.

None of these pastors are affiliated with the religious right, though several are quite conservative theologically. One of them, the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, the pastor of a conservative megachurch in Florida, was branded a turncoat by some leaders of the Christian right when he began to speak out on the need to stop global warming.

But as a group they can hardly be characterized as part of the religious left either. Most, like Mr. Wallis, do not take traditionally liberal positions on abortion or homosexuality. What most say they share with the president is the conviction that faith is the foundation in the fight against economic inequality and social injustice.

"These are all centrist, social justice guys," said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers, a politically active pastor of Azusa Community Church in Boston, who knows all of them but is not part of the president's prayer caucus. "Obama genuinely comes out of the social justice wing of the church. That's real. The community organizing stuff is real."

The pastors say Mr. Obama appears to rely on his faith for intellectual and spiritual succor.

"While he may not put ‘Honk if You Love Jesus' bumper stickers on the back of his car, he is the kind of guy who practices what he preaches," said Mr. Caldwell, the senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. "He has a desire to keep in touch with folk outside the Beltway, and to stay in touch with God. He seems to see those as necessary conditions for maintaining his internal compass."

Bishop Jakes said he had been tapped for several prayer phone calls - the most recent being when Mr. Obama's grandmother died in November, two days before the election. "You take turns praying," said Bishop Jakes, who like the other ministers did not want to divulge details of the calls. "It's really more about contacting God than each other."

Mr. Hunter said of the phone calls: "The times I have prayed with him, he's always initiated it."

The Obama administration has reached out to hundreds of religious leaders across the country to mobilize support and to seek advice on policy. These five pastors, however, have been brought into a more intimate inner circle. Their names were gleaned from interviews with people who know the president and religious leaders who work in Washington. Their role could change if Mr. Obama joins a church in Washington, but that could take some time because of the logistical challenges in finding a church that can accommodate the kind of crowd the Obamas would attract.

The White House refused to comment for this article.

The pastor in the circle who has known Mr. Obama the longest is Mr. Wallis, president and chief executive of Sojourners, a liberal magazine and movement based in Washington. In contrast to the other four, his contact with the president has been focused more on policy than prayer. Mr. Wallis has recently joined conservatives in pressing the president's office of faith-based initiatives to continue to allow government financing for religious social service groups that hire only employees of their own faith.

Mr. Wallis said he got to know Mr. Obama in the late 1990s when they participated in a traveling seminar that took bus trips to community programs across the country. Mr. Wallis said they "hit it off" because they were both Christians serious about their faith, fathers of young children the same age and believers in "transcending left and right" to find solutions to social problems.

"He and I were what we called back then ‘progressive Christians,' as opposed to the dominant religious-right era we were in then," Mr. Wallis said. "We didn't think Jesus' top priorities would be capital gains tax cuts and supporting the next war."

Presidents through the ages have leaned on pastors for spiritual support, policy advice and political cover. The Rev. Billy Graham was a counselor to at least five (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush), and tapes from the Nixon White House reveal that their talks veered beyond religion to political and social topics that later proved regretful.

Some presidents, like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, regularly attended a local church. George W. Bush never joined a local church, but courted ministers on the religious right, which gained him favor with a major constituency for most of his two terms.

Pinning down Mr. Obama's theological leanings is not easy, the ministers said in interviews. They said he is well read in the Bible, but has not articulated views consistent with the racially inflected interpretation of his former pastor, Mr. Wright.

Mr. Moss, who once worked alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and who only recently retired from his pulpit at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, said of the president, "I would simply say that he is a person of great faith, and I think that faith has sustained him."

Mr. Moss's son is the Rev. Otis Moss III, who succeeded Mr. Wright as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Mr. Obama's former church. Mr. Wright and the president are no longer in contact, said several people who know both men.

Bishop Jakes said he sought out Mr. Obama in Chicago because of their common interest in Kenya and because he was impressed with the speech Mr. Obama delivered at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Bishop Jakes is himself a nationally known preaching powerhouse who fills sports stadiums and draws 30,000 worshipers to his church in Dallas, the Potter's House. He also produces movies, writes books and runs antipoverty programs in Dallas and Kenya, where Mr. Obama has ties through his Kenyan father.

Three of the ministers said their introduction to the president was through Joshua DuBois, who led religious outreach for the Obama presidential campaign and now heads the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Mr. DuBois, who declined to comment, is himself a Pentecostal pastor.

Mr. Hunter, who leads a church in Longwood, Fla., said he was approached by Mr. DuBois in 2007 - a few months after he left his new post as head of the Christian Coalition, the conservative advocacy group, because the board did not want to enlarge its agenda to include environmental issues like global warming.

He has since written a book, "A New Kind of Conservative: Cooperation Without Compromise," and gave an invocation at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year.

Bishop Jakes, Mr. Wallis and Mr. Hunter said they were political independents. Mr. Moss and Mr. Caldwell publicly endorsed Mr. Obama, and Mr. Caldwell donated money to his campaign.

On the morning of the inauguration, Bishop Jakes delivered the sermon at a private service at St. John's Episcopal Church. He likened Mr. Obama to the boys in the Book of Daniel who are thrown into a fiery furnace that is seven times hotter than it should be - and survive. "God is with you in the furnace," Bishop Jakes preached to Mr. Obama.

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CBN: How to Pray for President Obama

By Robin Mazyck and David Brody, CBN News, February 13, 2009 - In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul's First Timothy tells us that we must pray for our leaders. But some Christians are finding it difficult to pray for newly elected President Barack Obama.

Millions of people across the country have been praying for President Barack Obama. From Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California who gave the inaugural prayer saying "we now commit our new President and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha into Your loving care."

To Rev. Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga. at the 56th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service who prayed "grant to Barack Obama, President of the United States and to all in authority, Your grace and good will."

Some know exactly what to say in their prayers. But others, especially those who may not have voted for him, are not so sure. They know they should pray for the President, but they're not sure what to pray.

Prominent conservative evangelical Pastor Joel Hunter of Northland Church in California says Christians should pray for two things.

"The one he always requests is pray for his family," Hunter explained. "For a dad and a husband that's always what you cover. Secondly, pray for his relationship with the Lord. He's very serious about his relationship with the Lord."

And many other religious leaders agree.

"I pray for security for his security for he and his family," Bishop George Brooks of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Greensboro, N. Carolina said. "I pray for wisdom. I pray for our congress. I pray for our senate. I pray that he always remembers why he's there, who he serves and who he has to report to."

And some say with everything going on -- especially the worsening economy - God's hand is going to have to be present.

"Heaven is going to have to help the white house," Pastor Tony Evans of Urban Alternative said. "Heaven is going to have to direct him."

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Pastor Hunter Visits the Oval Office

Working with Faith from White House on Vimeo.

This video from the White House shows scenes of the President with members of the newly created Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Headed by Joshua DuBois, the council's 25 members includes our pastor, Dr. Joel C. Hunter. He, along with the other members, will advise the President on policy issues—both foreign and domestic—and help to steer government money to religious and neighborhood groups doing social service.

Visit the White House blog to learn more.

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