January 3, 2012


In Alabama, a church sees its Latino brethren vanish: Since the state passed its tough immigration law, many are moving elsewhere. At one Southern Baptist church, white members struggle to reconcile their support for the measure with compassion for their fellow Christians. (Richard Fausset, 12/29/11, Los Angeles Times)

Victoria Pajaro banged out a piano accompaniment in the vigorous style that Southern Baptist missionary women had taught her years ago in Colombia. After a Bible reading, a pastor named William Robles, speaking in Spanish, abruptly mentioned the state's new immigration law, which requires that police check the residency status of suspected illegal immigrants.

We cannot assume that the whites who supported the law are bigots, he told the congregation. Only God knows the content of their hearts.

In an hour, the sanctuary would fill with the church's white members, nearly all of them conservatives and most supporters of Republican Gov. Robert J. Bentley, the Southern Baptist deacon who championed the law as the nation's toughest after signing it in September.

For more than a decade, however, the white Southern Baptists in this small country church have opened their doors, wallets and hearts to a group of Latino strangers who appeared among them suddenly one Sunday, desperate for a place to pray.

They hired a bilingual pastor, launched a countywide "Hispanic mission," and let their children play side by side with the newcomers' kids on field trips and in summer camps. They knew or suspected that many of them were here illegally.

Now, since the law's passage, the Latinos are moving away. And in the pine pews of Riverside Heights Baptist Church, many white members are struggling to reconcile strongly held convictions about a lawful society with their compassion for their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

When the Father Judd was a Baptist minister his flock chose to close their doors rather than see the church become predominantly black, but at least they didn't pretend it was out of concern for law and order.

Posted by at January 3, 2012 3:50 PM

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