Jan. 15, 2013 -- Evangelical leaders representing more than 100,000 churches across the U.S. are backing immigration reform, and they're asking their congregants to do the same.
Calling reform a religious imperative, the Evangelical Immigration Table is asking Christians across the country to engage in 40 days of praying and reading scriptures related to immigrants and immigration, what the groups dub the "I Was a Stranger" challenge.
The leaders spoke about the campaign on a call hosted by the National Immigration Forum on Monday.
"Through this challenge we're connecting with the grassroots Christians," said Noel Castellanos, the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association. "It's the men and women that sit in the pews, and helping them to take action, through mail, through phone calls to our legislators."
The coalition of evangelicals seems determined to make its voice heard in the 2013 immigration reform debate. After President Obama won reelection in November, the group called on him to introduce an immigration bill within 92 days of taking office. The timeline stems from the number of times the Hebrew word for immigrant, "ger," appears in the Bible.
While the "I Was a Stranger" challenge draws on an old message, the campaign will use social media to help inform congregants. The coalition said its reach extends to more than 850,000 Facebook and Twitter users, and a campaign website features a downloadable toolkit for churches interested in participating.
The goal is to have Christians -- including politicians involved in the immigration debate -- reflect on what the Bible teaches about immigrants. Bill Hamel, the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, and one of the leaders involved in the campaign, spoke of immigration as a rights issue.
"I missed the civil rights movement, I watched and did nothing and for decades I have regretted those days," Hamel said. "I'm committed not to sit this one out."