Young Evangelical Takes On Immigration Issues

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — A handwritten sign on the church door announces the event where Matthew Soerens, fluent in Spanish, the Bible and the nation's immigration laws, will try to win converts. For months, he has been seeking out evangelical pastors locally and around the country, hoping to persuade them that immigration reform is a Christian imperative, even though the issue is so explosive that many ministers won't go near it. "I've heard people in churches saying things about immigrants that would make me kind of cringe," Soerens says. On this night, he is speaking at Community Christian Church in Naperville, a megachurch with several sites in Chicago's western suburbs. In neighbouring Aurora, where the church has a campus, the number of immigrants has grown so steadily that some of its schools are mostly Latino. Their presence, and their struggles, have drawn notice in the broader church. Soerens' presentation is called, "Who is My Neighbour? A Christian Conversation About Immigration." A small crowd of older couples, 20-somethings and young families is scattered around the auditorium, some with pens poised for taking notes. Soerens barely mentions politics. He almost never talks about advocacy on a first visit to a church. Instead, he reels off Bible verses, from Deuteronomy, Zechariah, Malachi and more, and speaks of the Christian duty to be hospitable toward strangers, even lawbreakers. Then, one-by-one, legal and illegal immigrants, some clutching their children, take the stage to tell how they face separation from their families. Pastors from other churches who helped sponsor the event pray over each immigrant and ask the audience to participate. Several prominent evangelical leaders agree. They have publicly supported some steps that would ease a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.