The Fraudulent Ecclesiastical Mandate of Sen. Schumer's Religious Allies

By Stephen Steinlight on November 9, 2009

In a blatant display of the partisan card stacking which routinely debases the intellectual and ethical currency of Congressional hearings on "immigration reform," Sen. Charles Schumer (D, NY) last month chaired a session of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security titled "Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives." Even a fig leaf of balance was missing; the minority wasn't allowed its fractional quotient of witnesses. Only supporters of "comprehensive immigration reform" were invited to testify. The hearing violated the spirit of open, oppositional discourse essential to the functioning and preservation of democratic institutions. The farce was also a sham. In an unseemly spectacle, leaders of religious denominations, hedging their testimony with equivocation, sought to convey the impression they speak in the name of their flocks, traducing their religious bona fides in a futile effort to lend an aura of credibility to misrepresentation.

Lack of balanced testimony in a national forum as significant as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is deplorable under all circumstances, but particularly insidious when it involves religion. This hearing mocked freedom of conscience. What Sen. Schumer undertook was a thinly veiled attempt to anoint those who support open-borders immigration as the Party of God while implicitly damning opponents as heartless heretics.

Sen. Schumer's opening statement set the tone. Combining affected earnestness with slippery argumentation, he sounded like Moliére's Tartuffe in his unctuousness. Speaking out of both sides of his mouth, the senator simultaneously upheld and subverted the rule of law, excoriated illegal immigration while urging it be rewarded, then tried extricating himself from these and similar contradictions by pole vaulting over the nation's present immigration crisis – begging scores of unanswered questions – and adumbrated a future immigration policy that would "encourage the best and the brightest" while "managing the flow of the low-skilled." This policy outline did not mention extended family reunification, an article of faith in the "immigration reform" advocated by every witness. But none of the politically savvy clerics betrayed even fleeting discomfort. Schumer is far too important to the attainment of their sectarian goals to risk ruffling his feathers.

The usual suspects were present – Cardinal McCarrick testified for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, while the Sisters of Mercy of America, the American Friends Service Committee, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League submitted written statements – but it was the testimony of Evangelical Protestant leaders and preachers, the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) above all, that was the high point and, according to Sen. Schumer, a historic coup. Anderson claimed the heads of the churches that comprise his umbrella group had chosen unanimously to embrace "comprehensive immigration reform." This purported socio-cultural game-changer was the hearing's raison ď'être. Sen. Schumer crowed over the scale of the endorsement, triumphantly announcing the advent of a new ally with 45,000 churches from over 40 denominations representing some 30 million parishioners. He noted, "It is now no longer possible to think of immigration as an issue that only matters to the Latino community. As these witnesses attest, this issue crosses faith lines, party lines, ideological lines."

For those who view religious institutions as inescapably social and political entities and interpret robust support for open-borders immigration by the Roman Catholic Church and the National Association of Evangelicals in more prosaically partisan, self-interested sectarian terms – constituency politics camouflaged by high-flown theological, ethical, and civic rhetoric – Anderson's testimony offers a more trenchant way to reframe Sen. Schumer's assertion about Latinos and immigration. The substitute formulation is Latinos "no longer only matter to the Roman Catholic Church." Evangelicals recognize they can and must win converts among these born-first-Catholics. It's key to remember that Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are old historical antagonists, more often bitter enemies than friends, and fierce competitors not only in the same business but the identical market niche. In an emphatic point in his testimony, the second paragraph where he launches his argument, Anderson gives the game away: "Our fastest growing churches are found in immigrant communities. In some of our denominations more than half the congregations have substantial numbers of immigrant members." In his peroration he states, "Immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us."

That's not quite the case yet, at least in organizational terms. According to the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, only 7 percent of American Evangelicals are Hispanic, but there's a huge potential market of religious switch-hitters: four out of ten Americans change religions in their lifetime. Also, some 16 million Hispanics in America – their legal status is academic – currently belong to churches affiliated with the largely Pentecostal National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. A large percentage of Hispanic men have walked away from the Catholic Church and disaffiliated from all religion. Over time these umbrella groups will work out their institutional politics and a merger is a safe bet.

The battle over warm immigrant and illegal-alien bodies to fill emptying Catholic pews and bursting ones in Evangelical mega-churches is also reflected in Cardinal McCarrick's testimony when he states, "The Catholic Church is an immigrant church. More than one-third of Catholics in the United States are of Hispanic origin." (He downplays the fact that 65 percent of American Catholics are non-Hispanic Whites, of whom it may be safely said an overwhelming majority oppose amnesty and open borders.) So compelling is the Church's interest in eliminating barriers to illegal immigration and amnestying the 11 million illegal aliens, the majority Mexican, that its pastoral letter endorsing "comprehensive immigration reform" titled "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope" was drafted jointly by U.S. and Mexican bishops.

The Catholic Church's motives are mixed and signatories of the pastoral letter are undoubtedly responding to sincere ethical concerns, though unabashedly parochial ones. But it is difficult to avoid concluding that by partnering with the Mexican Church the U.S. Conference of Bishops' first allegiance is to Roman Catholic sectarian interests rather than to those of the American people and nation. In the zero-sum game of contemporary immigration, they define their loyalties in confessional, not national terms: the bishops have chosen to show greater concern for the well-being of illegally resident foreign Catholics than for that of their fellow citizens. This discordant theme is a leitmotif throughout McCarrick's testimony. Though peppered with scriptural citation, references to church doctrine, and moral commentary, unlike that of the other witnesses McCarrick's testimony is no homily. It doesn't sound or read like pulpit oratory; rather, the document appears to have been written by policy wonks, with the ecclesiastical window-dressing a later accretion. The tightly composed, politically savvy 18-page testimony focuses solely on the interests of illegal aliens and critiques legislation and policy paradigms that would advance or hinder them.

McCarrick's testimony not only wholly ignores the suffering of Americans facing the bleakest economic circumstances since the Great Depression – there's not so much as a passing genuflection to this crisis – but it also dismisses the issue as an irrelevancy. This attitude is incomprehensible when the current federal U-6 Unemployment Rate (which totals the unemployed looking for work, those too discouraged to, and those able to find only part-time work) is nearing 20 percent. The cardinal's testimony includes only two oblique references to the impact of mass immigration on American workers, both from controversial, extremely partisan sources: the purist libertarian Cato Institute, an odd ally for the Roman Catholic Church with its "social responsibility" agenda; and the North American Integration and Development Center (NAID), a center of globalist determinism which devalues American sovereignty and is funded by the government of Mexico. These studies maintain the economic hardships faced by American workers have nothing to do with competition with cheap immigrant labor.

A substantial body of research from more mainstream sources refutes this thesis, including a major study by the prestigious National Academy of Science, "The New Americans: Economic, Demographic and Fiscal Effects of Immigrants." See also Steven Camarota's "The Labor Market Impact of Immigration: A Review of Recent Studies," "Dropping Out: Immigrant Entry and Native Exit from the Labor Market," and Vernon Briggs, Jr., testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "Illegal Immigration: The Impact on Wages and Employment of Black Workers." McCarrrick's testimony doesn't anticipate or respond to these important findings, exhibiting a cavalier attitude to counter arguments that undermines his credibility.

The greatest failing in the cardinal's testimony is not intellectual, however problematic his arguments and sources; it lies in its stunted moral imagination, whose chief cause is a disturbing lack of catholicity. Lack of empathy for those outside one’s sectarian sphere, a feature of both McCarrick's and Anderson's testimony, is evidenced by their failure to mention, let alone express sympathy with, the hardest hit group in America – African-Americans, whose unemployment in many urban centers is twice the national average during the Great Depression. This callousness seems explicable only because African Americans form but a small percentage of Roman Catholics and NAE member denominations. McCarrick's and Anderson's repeated calls for compassion and justice for immigrants ring hollow; they appear as no more than special pleading for special constituencies.

Throughout the hearing Schumer treated his clerical witnesses with great deference as he gently led their responses, asking only softball questions to which he already knew the answer. But on two occasions he appeared to slip, opening the door to inconvenient truths. He asked the three witnesses who claimed to represent religious denominations, "How many of your colleagues would you say agree with your views on immigration? Do you know of specific leaders who are not here today who would like to be?" Hoping to elicit impressive numbers, the question produced a disappointing result. Anderson cited the unanimous vote of his 75-member board. Cardinal McCarrick said he spoke for 300 active Bishops and "120 of us retired old geezers."

Rather than wasting limited question time on a matter so trivial and, we shall see, irrelevant as the size of the leadership cadres endorsing "comprehensive immigration reform," Schumer could have pursued a line of interrogatory with large political implications. One question, above all, was fairly crying out to be asked, but in so partisan a hearing its omission was predictable. Not a single senator evidently wished to know on what basis the cardinal and pastor claimed to speak on behalf of some 75 million Roman Catholics and 30 million Evangelicals. Assuming the witnesses answered honestly, their responses would have revealed the political meaninglessness of their endorsements, not to mention contempt for the opinions of their co-religionists. It surely matters to those in whose name "comprehensive immigration reform" received their denomination's endorsement to know how the decision was made. It's equally important to all Americans to know whether these ostensibly weighty endorsements are the result of a democratic decision-making process or represent no more than dicta by unrepresentative sectarian oligarchies.

In fairness to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, it should be noted that no religious denomination in the United States – Christian or Jewish – operates in a different way. All are oligarchies. None makes its decisions through democratic processes. Some hold conventions at which public policy is deliberated – the appearance of being representative is important though not the reality – but attendees represent an enhanced leadership cadre, not average congregants. It would be a cheap shot, indeed, to assert the Catholic Church's hierarchical structure makes it particularly susceptible to anti-democratic governance. The Central Conference of American Rabbis of Reform Judaism, or the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism – both of which have endorsed "comprehensive immigration reform" – didn't arrive at that conclusion any more democratically than did the bishops. (I've written a Backgrounder on the spurious mandate of the American Jewish establishment regarding immigration policy.) The same could be said of mainline Protestant churches.

The point, however, is that the American people are unaware how these decisions are made across the religious spectrum. They don’t know they are invariably taken by tiny elites. They need to know.

That the decision by the Catholic Church and the National Association of Evangelicals was taken by miniscule hierarchies rather than through consultation, dialogue and debate among the body of the faithful is coyly revealed in Cardinal McCarrick's citing 420 Bishops and no one else, and Rev. Anderson's citing only his 75 board members as endorsing open-borders immigration. But it isn't necessary to read between the lines of their self-serving responses. Survey data reveals a huge gulf between the pro-amnesty, open-borders immigration policy backed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the views of ordinary American Roman Catholics. The same data show an even wider chasm separating the leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals from the great majority of Born-Again Christians.

The stark divide between the pulpit and pew is reflected in dramatic findings of a survey by Zogby International undertaken for CIS published in 2006. The survey's chief purpose was to ascertain whether most Americans supported the enforcement-only bill passed by the House or a Senate bill that would have increased immigration (the survey reveals only 2% of Americans believe immigration is too low) and permitted illegal aliens to apply for legal status – the identical poles of the debate three years later. The survey revealed Americans favored the House version by 2 to 1. Conducted by telephone interviews of 1,000 likely voters, the findings were broken out by religious affiliation, among other criteria. We’ll focus on a handful of key findings which, in sum, show huge majorities of both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals oppose increased immigration, are united in the belief that current immigration is too high, are supportive of an enforcement-only approach, and share the belief the federal government has never made a proper effort to control illegal immigration.

Question #1 asks Americans whether they want immigration reduced, and the survey offers respondents three choices: (1) reduce immigration in order to better assimilate the immigrants already here; (2) since immigrants are assimilating fine we should continue the current level of immigration; and (3) not sure. 65 percent of Roman Catholics chose to reduce immigration, with 29 percent supporting continuing immigration at current levels. 80 percent of Born-Again Christians chose to reduce immigration, with only 14 percent supporting continuing immigration at current rates. Question #2 asks whether Americans believe current immigration is too high, and offers four choices: (1) Too High; (2) Too Low; (3) Just About Right; and (4) Not Sure. 64 percent of Catholics responded immigration is Too High; and 0 percent said is was Too Low. 30 percent said it was About Right. 78 percent of Born-Again Christians said immigration is Too High; and only 1 percent responded Too Low. 18 percent responded Just About Right. Question #3 asks whether Americans prefer the House ("enforcement only") approach, and respondents are offered three choices: "Good or Very Good Idea; Bad or Very Bad Idea; and Not Sure. 66 percent of Catholics responded that an "enforcement only policy" is a "Good or Very Good Idea;" 30 percent responded Bad or Very Bad Idea. 77 percent of Born-Again Christians responded "enforcement only" was a "Good or Very Good Idea;" and 19 percent responded Bad or Very Bad Idea. Finally, Question #9 asks Americans whether enforcement of immigration laws has been adequate or inadequate, offering respondents three choices: "Efforts have been grossly inadequate and the government has never tried to enforce immigration laws;" or "We made a real effort to enforce immigration laws but failed because we are not allowing enough immigrants in legally;" and "Not Sure." 73 percent of Roman Catholics responded that "Efforts have been grossly inadequate;" and 18 percent responded "We made a real effort but failed." 78 percent of Born-Again Christians responded that "Efforts have been grossly inadequate;" and 13 percent responded "We made a real effort but failed."

Though the senators never directly probed the fictitious mandates their witnesses cleverly didn't so much positively assert as not disavow – allowing a false impression to stand uncorrected – the interrogatory became more problematic when Schumer asked a question on the issue's periphery, unwittingly opening a door he and his witnesses would rather have kept shut. He asked, "Do you think there are some religious leaders who do not speak out in favor of immigration reform particularly to their congregants for fear of reprisal from the congregation or disfavor or anything like that. Tell me what you think." Two witnesses responded. Leith Anderson did his best to fob off and minimize the issue. But the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an association of Born-Again Christians and New Evangelicals who belong to 25,434 churches and total some 16 million Hispanic Evangelicals, surprised all present by doing the unheard of: he told the truth. He responded, "Absolutely, there's a disconnect between the pulpit and the pews, particularly in non-ethnic congregations." ("Ethnic" has evidently become another euphemism for Hispanic in current parlance.) He quickly added the NAE’s endorsement of "comprehensive immigration reform" would help close the cultural divide, making support for open-borders "no longer a Latino thing or a Hispanic church issue, now it's the collective evangelical community." But this reassurance didn't quite dispel the image of the pulpit and pew at loggerheads. Subsequent revelations would dispel it altogether.

The purported unanimity among the member churches of the National Association of Evangelicals claimed by Rev. Anderson turns out to be illusory. Subsequent clarifications by member churches demolish the optimistic assessment of Rev. Rodriguez, raise questions about the veracity of Rev. Anderson's testimony, and reveal as hollow Sen. Schumer's erroneous assertion that the great majority of America's Evangelical Christians support "comprehensive immigration reform." Immediately following Leith Anderson's announcement of NAE's "unanimous support," there was an uprising in those obstreperous pews against the pulpit. The following headline appeared on Numbers USA's website on October 23: "GOOD NEWS: 75% of Evangelical Member Denominations DON’T Sign NAE’s Pro-Amnesty Document."

As reported by Numbers USA, following outraged phone calls, emails and faxes sent to denominational headquarters by huge numbers of congregants, many member churches of NAE posted statements on-line disavowing support for "comprehensive immigration reform." At present, just 11 of the 42 affiliated churches (25 percent) endorse the statement. Rev. Anderson may brag that his two largest denominations – the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Nazarene – are signatories, but it's a safe bet their support reflects the views of a body of senior pastors, certainly not a majority of parishioners.

Thus, as is the case with virtually ever other identifiable sociological demographic one could name in the United States, the leadership cadre of the National Association of Evangelicals has usurped the voice of its members with regard to support for open-borders immigration. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has done the same to the great majority of American Catholics who are not Hispanic (and even many who are). Immigration is no less the "perfect policy storm" for Evangelicals or Catholics than for all other Americans, despite the theatrics at the hearing on October 8.

Topics: Catholics