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Why George W. Bush is calling for a ‘religious awakening’ on immigration reform

The former president recently spoke on a panel titled “Immigrants and the American Future”

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Former President George W. Bush walks off the stage after giving a speech before a U.S. citizen swearing in ceremony at the the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

LM Otero, Associated Press

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Former president George W. Bush believes the immigration system is broken. More importantly, he thinks America’s leaders, including pastors, have given up on trying to fix it.

“There’s been a lack of leadership on this issue because it’s become too politicized. Once an issue becomes politically hot, it’s very difficult to paint a positive picture that rises above the noise,” he said during a recent webinar titled “Immigrants and the American Future.”

Bush is trying to jump-start a more productive debate by quite literally painting a more positive picture of immigration. In his new book, “Out of Many, One,” he pairs portraits of immigrants with brief essays on their incredible lives, as my colleague, Hunter Schwarz, recently reported.

“People who view immigration with alarm forget about what immigration has done for our country,” Bush said during last week’s event.

In critiquing the current state of immigration politics, Bush didn’t pull his punches. He criticized even America’s religious communities for letting partisan politics interfere with reform efforts.

“It seems to me that, in the recent past, churches have become, and particularly white evangelical churches, political instruments,” he said.

Moving forward, churches need to refocus on the “right mission” and bring that focus to immigration-related discussions, Bush added.

“Until there is a religious awakening to a certain extent, a revival of mission, this issue (of immigration reform) may not be as important as it used to be,” he said.

Fresh off the press

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on this term’s high-profile clash between the city of Philadelphia and a Catholic foster care agency. Justices will decide whether city officials must exempt certain faith-based agencies from LGBTQ nondiscrimination rules. Last week, I recorded a video and wrote a short accompanying article on this important case.

I wrote an essay for the May issue of Deseret Magazine and, believe it or not, it wasn’t about religion. Instead, I reflected on how becoming a mom changed my relationship with social media and made me steer clear of some of the Instagram accounts I used to love.

Term of the week: High court

If you follow legal news, you should be no stranger to the term “high court.” It can be used interchangeably with “Supreme Court” since the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in the United States. Supreme Court justices are able to weigh in and overturn or otherwise adjust decisions made in the lower courts, which include federal appeals courts and state supreme courts.

What I’m reading ...

Social scientists don’t agree on what causes a society to grow more secular. Popular answers include educational advancements or economic wealth. In a new study published this month, two religion researchers put the blame on political power. They argue that government support for Christianity tends to lead toward Christianity’s demise. “Christianity is often the strongest in countries where it has to compete with other faith traditions on an equal playing field,” writes one of the study’s co-authors in Christianity Today.

Jonathan Rauch has a much different background than most religious freedom advocates I know. He’s Jewish by heritage, but defines himself as an atheist. He’s also openly gay. I really enjoy following his writing on today’s religious freedom battles, so you can imagine my delight at seeing one of his essays published by the Deseret News last week. In the piece, he explains why critics of compromise have got it all wrong.

Over the weekend, religion journalism lost one of its shining stars. Rachel Zoll, who covered religion for The Associated Press for 17 years, was one of my reporting heroes and she will be sorely missed. I encourage you to read her beautiful obituary, written by Zoll’s friend and colleague, David Crary.

Odds and ends

I took home two awards from this year’s Top of the Rockies contest, which recognizes work from news outlets in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. I got a first-place prize for my story on Christian responses to last summer’s protests and a third place for my story about the pandemic reshaping baptism rituals.

Religion scholar, author and podcast host Kate Bowler recently tweeted out her prayer for parents struggling with the ways they’ve let their kids down during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Help us ... find a way to burrow underneath all the layers of need and speak love and strength into the core of their being,” she wrote.