While some evangelical leaders have long favored an immigration revision, it’s only now -- in the wake of the 2012 elections that spotlighted Republicans’ weakness with Hispanic voters -- that they are stepping up their activism.
It remains a difficult goal, even with a new sense of political urgency among Republicans who warn their party must do better with the fastest growing minority voting bloc. A large swath of the party base opposes loosening immigration rules, and their advocacy group are also engaged in the debate.
“Evangelicals have got to make it clear that if you speak up and support this, you will have substantial grassroots support” that would insulate Republican lawmakers from potential primary challengers based on immigration, said Richard Land, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The landscape has changed on this.”
His organization is a leading force behind the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that is pressing pastors, church members and lawmakers to begin thinking about and acting on immigration policy in biblical terms. The group is urging people to read 40 passages of the Bible that touch on the topic. Among them are those recounting how God tells Israelites to deal with immigrants -- “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you” -- and those that describe Jesus himself as a refugee.
They call their effort the “I was a stranger” campaign, based on the Matthew 25:35-40 verse: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”