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Sojourners President: Immigration reform is nonpartisan

Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners, recently published "America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America"

The rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail is as divisive and vitriolic as ever.  In fact, several large Republican donors have said they’re reluctant to open their wallets until there’s a fundamental shift in the tone of the campaign and a focus on policy.  WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn spoke recently with New York Times Best-Selling Author, Theologian, and SojournersPresident Jim Wallis about politics and the decision confronting Americans.

RLH:  As we look toward the future and as we look at the dialogue surrounding the current presidential campaign, we hear lots of xenophobia. 

JW:   Well, just two days ago, 55 Christian leaders signed a statement.  It says, Called to Resist Bigotry, a statement to resist bigotry and it’s about the rhetoric of Donald Trump, in particular.  Now, he’s not the only one that’s been using racial politics, but he’s a good marketer.  He’s sees the potential here of using the anger of legitimate grievances of white working-class people who’ve been left behind, who’ve been marginalized, who’ve been promised things by both elites and not come through on those promises.  They feel left out, left behind, no one cares.  And he’s – he says, “I’m taking the mantle of anger on me,” and then he’s using the old, ugly populism of Huey Long and others – “blame others” – it’s a racial blaming for your problems.  And it’s working.  And so that’s the rhetoric now. 

We, as Christians, we can vote differently and some who signed the statement are Republican, some Democrat. 

RLH:  How does this not become a partisan conversation?  And I’m thinking not about national politics now, but locally, there was a very public kerfuffle over funding that was allocated for children in need and at-risk kids.  And one reporter uncovered the fact that some of these children might be the children undocumented people.  And this became a partisan issue.  We’re spending our money on kids whose parents are not paying taxes. 

JW:  So how we treat undocumented people -- these are people who decades ago saw two invisible signs at the border:  one sign says “No Trespass!”  The other one said, “Help Wanted.”  And they got stuck between those signs. 

It’s a broken system.  Both parties are to blame.  We’ve got to fix that system and create a fair, legal system.  But you’ve got to -- you can’t deport 11 million people who’ve lived their lives here.  Most of their kids have grown up here.  And some of them have never even been home.  So how do you treat those people in a gospel way and in a fair way that welcomes the stranger? 

RLH:  It sounds like a Democratic position. 

JW:   Well, there are Republicans who joined Democrats in passing a bill for immigration reform in the Senate.  That was Republicans and Democrats and I was meeting with both sides.  And we had three Catholic Bishops and three of us Evangelical leaders who went to see the House Republican leadership all day.  And they promised us there’d be a vote on this bill or something like it in the House.  And then they broke that promise. 

Back a year ago July, look at the polls, most Americans – not just Democrats – independents and Republicans and most Evangelicals – I’m an Evangelical and most white Evangelicals – I’m a white Evangelical – were for immigration reform. 

And it got blocked by a minority in the House of Representatives from racially-gerrymandered white districts. 

So the country was more ready for a fair system. 

So, we can have a better conversation than we’ve had.  The hating and blaming of immigrants is really contrary to our Scriptures and it’s part of this fear – this fear that people like Donald Trump are using to promote their own political gain.  So when bigotry is used to promote one’s own political gain, then that’s a problem for us in the faith community.  That’s a religious issue and not just a political one.

RLH:  Jim Wallis, thanks so much for joining us today.

JW:  Blessing to be here. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.