In an unprecedented show of unity, 170 evangelical leaders across the nation have partnered in a push for immigration reform legislation by the end of the summer.
Their coalition, Evangelical Immigration Table, is inviting churches, organizations and individuals to join their efforts toward immigration legislation that upholds human dignity, family unity, rule of law, secure borders, taxpayer fairness, and the real surprise, a path towards citizenship.
Immigration reform will affect Lake Norman because of the recent growth of the Latino population. Census data shows the number of Hispanics living in Huntersville, Cornelius and Mooresville doubled between 2000 and 2010.
Many area churches now offer Spanish or bilingual services, including St. Mark Catholic, St. Therese Catholic and First Baptist Huntersville.
A broad coalition
“This is the broadest coalition of evangelicals I’ve ever seen,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
Participants in Evangelical Immigration Table span the spectrum of evangelicalism with prominent pastors, denominational heads, and leaders of national ministries, universities and seminaries. The list includes the expected left-leaning evangelicals, such as Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, and Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, but it also includes right-leaning leaders, such as Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family.
The leaders may differ on the issue of same-sex spouses, an amendment that was proposed but not added to the Senate’s immigration bill, but they are determined to focus on what they do agree on, caring for immigrants, which they believe is a Biblical and moral issue.
“The lives of 11 million of our neighbors hang in the balance,” said Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and author of “Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.”
A change in viewpoint
When asked why so many evangelicals have recently transformed their views about immigration, Hybels pointed to the power of scripture, emphasized in the Evangelical Immigration Table campaign called “I Was a Stranger.”
The campaign, which began in January, asked participants to read one scripture on immigration per day for 40 days.
An especially meaningful scripture was Matthew 25:35 where Jesus says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Hybels also talked about the profound demographic change that has brought so many undocumented immigrants into people’s neighborhoods and churches. Willow Creek has a Spanish language service with hundreds of undocumented fellow believers.
“We see the very real struggles of people we know and love,” Hybels said.
A letter to Congress
On May 2, the Evangelical Immigration Table wrote a letter to Congress urging leaders “to pass commonsense and comprehensive immigration reform within the next 92 days.”
In the letter, they congratulated the Senate’s “Gang of 8,” which included Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; they commended Senate Bill 744, which passed in committee and now heads to the Senate floor. They also encouraged members of both parties to work together.
Why 92 days?
“Ger” is the Hebrew word for immigrant, and it appears in the Bible 92 times. From the Monday after the letter was sent, May 6, until the Monday when Congress adjourns, Aug. 5, 92 days will have passed.
In its Statement of Principles, the group states that initiatives to remedy the immigration crisis “have led to polarization and name-calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate.”
An ad campaign
On May 30, the Evangelical Immigration Table launched an aggressive, $250,000 national ad campaign that is running on Christian and talk radio and on billboards near congressional offices in Florida, Texas and the Carolinas.
The ads feature Hybels and Russell Moore, president-elect of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 13 states, ads also feature local pastors, including the Rev. Alex Cosio, Hispanic pastor at Apex Baptist Church near Raleigh.
The ads are funded by contributions from the organizations that are part of Evangelical Immigration Table.
The Evangelical Immigration Table will continue its Pray for Reform movement, gathering small groups of Christians to pray for immigrants and Congress.
For more information
To find out more about the Evangelical Immigration Table, go to http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com. Sign up to be a Prayer Partner by going to www.pray4reform.com or by texting “immigration” to 877877.