This morning the White House hosted a conference call for reporters with religious leaders who are supporting the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young adults, brought here as children, who pursue higher education or join the military. As I noted after the DREAM Act passed the House, and as advocates wait for the Senate to take it up, the bill has wide support in various religious communities, despite opposition from some religious right groups aligned with the anti-immigrant movement.
If this religious support would actually speed passage of the DREAM Act, that would be a victory for at least incremental improvement of the tragically messed-up immigration system. But these episodic showings of faith support by the White House for certain measures raise the question: which issues, exactly, merit a demonstration of religious support? Would the White House host a call featuring religious supporters of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? (They exist, you know.)*
Speakers on the DREAM Act call, led by Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Joshua Dubois, Director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, included Noel Castellanos of the Christian Community Development Association; Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, VA; Pastor Joel Hunter of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida; and Pastor Rich Nathan of Vineyard Columbus in Columbus, Ohio. They all discussed the biblical and moral imperative to welcome the stranger; Nathan noted how the push for immigration reform “has united the religious community, even for those of us who consider ourselves conservatives.” Many of those conservatives, though, support immigration reform, but not for gay and lesbian people.
The Democratic Party was criticized after the midterms for, critics charged, punting on reaching out to “people of faith.” But whose faith, and what issues, deserve attention or emphasis? And who decides that faith-based advocacy for an issue is the “good” kind of faith, or not? Do you need a faith imprimatur for an issue that’s just a matter of basic human decency? And aren’t the views of “people of faith” more complex than the rather obvious statements of well-known religious leaders?
A new Washington Post poll finds that 70% of white evangelicals support open service by gays and lesbians in the military (although this poll shows a wide differential from a Pew poll which found only 43% of white evangelicals support open service). Still, though, there are plenty of religious people and religious leaders who support repealing DADT. You could make just as strong a moral argument about that as about immigration or nuclear nonproliferation, as have religious groups in support of the New Start treaty.
The reality is faith outreach — and the decision to attempt it at all — requires some more finesse than rubberstamps and some more thought about whether those rubberstamps suggest a certain religious imprimatur is required for law or policy. The Obama White House has a long history of uncertainty and missteps on how to seem attractive to that nebulous electorate of “people of faith.” Showing the world a panel of clergy who don’t hate immigrants makes it clear the White House is still feeling its way.