April 3, 2013 -- It started in South Carolina with Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham urging evangelists to back immigration reform as a way to "fix the problem."
Conservative faith leaders in the Palmetto state are now being joined by church leaders in North Carolina, Texas, Colorado and Florida producing and airing a series of ads designed to change the hard-line views of conservative Christians on the issue.
The Evangelical Immigration Table says the commercials will "educate" the faithful on the Bible's point of view on immigrants.
"White evangelicals have been listening to the voice of the extreme," said the Rev. David Fleming, the senior pastor for Champion Forest Baptist Church of Houston. "Give education to our people, they are changing their minds on this issue."
Fleming said that the undocumented are caught in a system that "isn't working," and is "not only ineffective and inefficient" but treats individuals like "political footballs."
"These folks speak English, they work hard, they pay taxes ... they are great neighbors they are friends of ours," he said. "We live together, we work together, we serve together. We are all in this together. We see the immigrant as a person created in the image of God."
As the religious inspiration for immigration reform, the group cites Matthew Chapter 25, where the Bible reads: "I was a stranger, and ye took me in."
One reason for the push among evangelical leaders could be the strong shift toward representation of Hispanics in their churches. Among U.S. Hispanics 13 percent identify as evangelical, second only to Catholicism, which 62 percent identified with in a 2012 Pew Hispanic poll.
Dr. Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, said they aren't going to "cast" support for one political party over another, but instead to "lift up moral issues at stake in this debate."
"There's a sea change happening in the Republican Party on this, and I see it here," Graham said in an interview with Bloomberg last week. "If I can sell it in South Carolina, don't come to me and say it's hard. This is a conservative state, and the way we're selling it is to fix it."
On April 17, the religious leaders have organized a "day of worship" and lobbying on immigration in Washington, D.C.
"The Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly to God's concern for the immigrant, guiding the Christ-follower toward principles that we believe should inform both the interpersonal ways that we interact with our immigrant neighbors and the public policies that we support," the website reads.