NEW YORK -- Prominent evangelical leaders announced a new effort Monday to persuade conservative Christians and lawmakers they should support overhauling U.S. immigration laws.
Called "I Was A Stranger," the campaign asks churches to spend 40 days studying Scripture related to immigration, centered on the Matthew 25 exhortation to clothe and feed the stranger. Organizers hope to create a groundswell of support for changes that balance national security with keeping immigrant families together.
The coalition includes the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents about 40 denominations; the public policy arm of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention; Esperanza, the Latino evangelical economic development group; pastor Bill Hybels of the influential Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington; and writer Max Lucado. Sojourners, the liberal-leaning evangelical advocacy group, is also participating.
"In the Anglo churches, there are so many more Hispanic people that we know and love," said the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland church, which serves about 15,000 congregants in the Orlando, Fla., area. "There's a readiness, even in the Anglo churches, to address this."
Many evangelical leaders have actively supported reform in recent years as the number of immigrants has increased in their churches. However, rank-and-file congregants have been slower to take up the issue beyond demands for stronger national borders. In surveys, white evangelicals have generally ranked border security as their top priority, while showing low levels of support for creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The evangelical push on the issue comes amid renewed interest in immigration reform from Congress and the White House. In the immediate aftermath of the November election, congressional Republicans suggested the time was right for reform talks. President Barack Obama, who won a record share of Hispanic voters, renewed his pledge to prioritize immigration reform.
Evangelical leaders said they are not backing any specific proposal right now.