Using a passage from the gospel of Matthew as their inspiration, an influential group of evangelical leaders launched a new campaign to inspire their followers to support immigration reform. The campaign urges participants to spend 40 days reading scripture related to immigration, in an effort to convince conservative Christians and politicians to embrace a bipartisan solution that will balance concerns like allowing families to stay together with other public policy and national security goals.
The coalition, called the Evangelical Immigration Table, casts a wide net through the evangelical community. Its backers include the National Association of Evangelicals, several dozen heads of evangelical denominations and leaders of evangelical organizations, and influential evangelical figures such as Richard Land, Joel Hunter, and Jim Wallis. In a video attached to the campaign, many of these supporters quote scripture, indicating that Jesus’ teachings compel evangelical Christians to aid strangers and outsiders.
Although Hispanic evangelicals are an increasingly significant minority within evangelical communities, white evangelical Protestants are among the least supportive religious groups when it comes to recent policies related to immigration reform. A majority (55%) of white evangelical Protestants oppose the basic tenets of the DREAM Act, allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college. White evangelical Protestants are also divided on whether undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for several years to earn legal working status and an opportunity for citizenship in the future (49% favor, 49% opposed).
But white evangelical Protestants may nevertheless be responsive to this new campaign. Overall, white evangelical Protestants have positive views of immigrants’ work ethic and family values: more than 8-in-10 (82%) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. today are hardworking, and nearly three-quarters (73%) say they have strong family values. And when asked to choose between two solutions to immigration reform: securing our borders while arresting and deporting all those who are here illegally, or both securing our borders and providing an earned path to citizenship, a majority (54%) of white evangelical Protestants chose the second option. And in a 2010 survey conducted by PRRI, white evangelical Protestants also reported that “keeping families together” (78%), “protecting the dignity of every person” (79%), “following the Golden Rule” (74%), and “following the biblical example of welcoming the stranger” (62%) were extremely or very important moral guides for immigration reform.
The campaign’s success is likely to be tested soon. President Obama is expected to act fast on immigration reform in his second term, while Senator Marco Rubio is emerging as the Republican leader on these policies. And evangelicals aren’t the only religious group whose leaders who are speaking out on immigration reform: the Catholic bishops have called for comprehensive immigration reform, while the LDS Church has also advocated for friendlier immigration policies.