CHICAGO (RNS) On a recent Sunday morning, Jenny Yang stood beside a giant wooden cross and made a case for immigration reform to members of an evangelical church.
“As Americans, we have a responsibility when the laws are not working for the common good to change them,” she intoned from the pulpit.
The talk was part of a broader, cross-country effort to persuade evangelicals to back the bipartisan immigration bill that’s working its way through Congress.
Yang, 33, is one of the leading voices behind the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of influential pastors and lobbyists working to drum up support for reform among believers and members of Congress.
As the vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, she frequently appears in the media urging a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
But this tactic remains contentious among Christians.
“I think very often they’re taking some Bible quotes and making sweeping social and political claims that the text itself would not necessarily support,” said Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. “The scriptures and Christian tradition call for people to be treated decently and mercifully, but there’s also the distinction between the obligations of the civil state, which is of course to uphold order and law, and the church, which is of course to extend mercy and compassion to all people.”
While the majority of white evangelical Christians say there should be a path for unauthorized immigrants who meet certain requirements to stay legally, only four in 10 back a path to citizenship. Most evangelicals see immigrants as a burden to society and a threat to American values, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
But Yang and Soerens, who often tag-team their speaking gigs, say many congregations open up to their message because of its biblical roots. Even some resistant churches “go from being slightly antagonistic to slightly supportive,” said Soerens.