(Photo: The Christian Post)
Pastors in Arizona are urging Republicans and Democrats to embrace immigration reform in the U.S, and analysts have said that immigrants are tied closely to the future of the evangelical church.
"A lot of this simply has to do with the sense among many evangelical leaders that the immigrant community, particularly the Hispanic community, is very important to the future of evangelical churches, that the missionary opportunities are very large," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute, according to AzCentral.com.
Immigration reform is something that has become a bipartisan issue following the November 2012 elections, with politicians saying it is time to find a solution for the roughly 11 million undocumented people living in America, many of whom are from the Hispanic community.
Evangelical pastors have been praying and calling on Congress to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform, saying that the Bible teaches Christians that they should be welcoming of the stranger.
"I'm convinced that we stand on the edge of the Jordan called 'immigration reform.' On the other side lies the promised land of integration, secured borders and safer communities," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said during a press call in May.
"We have 11 million hard-working, God-loving family individuals who contribute daily to the spiritual and economic well-being of our nation, waiting to step in," he continued.
In the same press call, Jim Wallis, president and CEO of the Christian ministry Sojourners, commented, "How we treat the stranger is how we treat Christ himself. That message is converting evangelicals by the thousands, by the millions – and we've seen now how that conversation is changing politics."
Christ's Church of the Valley Pastor Don Wilson has added his voice with radio ads in Arizona. "Christians," he says, "should be known for their love," according to AzCentral.com.
The radio ad, which has been running throughout the week on radio station KKNT-AM (960), "The Patriot," and Christian radio station KPXQ-AM (1360), focuses on immigration reform and urges politicians to come together on an issue Wilson says is rooted in biblical values.
"Our Arizona elected officials need your prayers," he says. "They need to hear your voice."
A Gallup poll in February showed that many young Hispanics are leaving the Roman Catholic Church in favor of Protestant alternatives, transitioning from the traditions of older generations.
"A majority of Hispanics in America continue to identify as Catholic, although the Catholic percentage among Hispanics appears to be decreasing and the youngest Hispanics in America today are less likely to be Catholic than those who are older," Gallup said about the results, which found that over 60 percent of Hispanic Protestants considered themselves very religious, while only 43 percent of Hispanic Catholics could say the same.
There are at least 2,000 Latino churches in the Southern Baptist denomination, and another 2,400 under the Assemblies of God, according to Gaston Espinosa, a religion professor at Claremont McKenna College and an expert on Latino evangelicals.
"This is actually a pretty important development, I would argue, in American evangelism, where you have these White, Euro-American evangelical leaders of national stature coming on board to support this," Espinosa said about immigration reform.