Immigrant-rights groups have been gathering in the Senate; here some are praying for immigration reform. (Photo/Getty Images )

“We transact in hope” – Protestant leaders step up immigration reform ad campaign

Lynne Hybels is the co-founder of the Willow Creek Community Church, in South Barrington, Illinois.  Hybels is the one of the “voices” in a quarter-million dollar radio ad campaign by the Evangelical Immigration Table, urging listeners to support comprehensive immigration reform as the biblical, Christian thing to do.  In a media call today with other Protestant leaders, Hybels explained how it all started years ago when her church offered Spanish-language services for the increasingly Latino residents in her community.  “We grew to appreciate their sense of family, and their warmth,” said Hybels.  “They changed us,” she added.

But after getting to know many Latino immigrant families, she explained, “we learned of their economic hopelessness and despair,” due to their undocumented status. “They drew us into the immigration debate; at that point we began educating everyone about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Hybels and other religious leaders spoke about a $250,000 ad campaign which starts today, consisting of radio ads in 13 states, as well as billboards placed near statehouses in states like Texas and North Carolina.  The radio ads will consist of different pastors addressing listeners in states as diverse as Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, on the biblical case for immigration reform.  The billboards will be near congressional offices in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The timing is important, since legislators from different states will be taking up — and expected to vote for — an immigration reform bill in Congress. The idea, say the Protestant and evangelical leaders, is that their congregations will put pressure on elected officials to vote in favor of immigration reform.  The group said it has 170 influential leaders signing a statement of principle in support of the legislation, and the support of 18 heads of evangelical colleges and 44 “megachurch” pastors,all of whom have been active through the “pray4reform” ad campaign.

Reverend Gabriel Salguero, the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition who led the call today, said he believed these religious-based ad campaigns are effective. “Evangelicals have a very high view of Scripture,” said Salguero, who went on to explain that “even if they were initially against it or undecided,” when evangelicals sift through biblical texts and see passages on how “strangers” should be treated, “conversion happens.”

Salguero was asked in the call about the group’s views on some aspects of the immigration reform bill, such as allowing same-sex couples to be included in the bill and whether the path to citizenship was too long or not rigorous enough.  Salguero declined to talk about these specifics, saying that for evangelical leaders, the key was an eventual earned path to citizenship without fear of deportation. He also added he sees less pushback against reform, even less than he saw 6 months ago.

“People in this country, whether it’s Raleigh, North Carolina or North Dakota have a relationship with immigrants,” said Salguero.

“As a pastor, we transact in hope,”  Salguero said.

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