(MENAFN - Arab News) Thou shalt compromise, at least on immigration reform. That is the message being heard from some leading evangelicals in the United States.
After decades of promoting traditionally conservative causes like opposition to abortion, many evangelical leaders are now wielding their formidable influence to persuade Republican lawmakers to back one of President Barack Obama's top priorities.
Conservatives in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives want to focus the debate initially on securing the border with Mexico and making sure illegal immigrants are not rewarded with an amnesty.
"Some of them don't necessarily see or acknowledge the changing demographics or the electoral merits of passing immigration reform, but I do think that many of these religious leaders could push them in that direction by really referencing the humanitarian interest, or moral argument," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
Rodriguez and other pastors are speaking to members of Congress "on a daily basis" to ask them to legalize the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Targeted lawmakers include Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who chaired a House hearing on immigration last week, and Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho - a leading Tea Party thinker on immigration.
Unlikely as it may have seemed at the height of the "culture wars" of the last two decades, these evangelicals are attempting to nudge Republicans to the center. The effort is well timed, coming as the Republican Party strives to improve its appeal to Hispanic voters who went solidly Democratic at 2012 elections.
"This is one area where social conservative input is extremely welcomed by the Republican Party," said O'Connell.
Support for an immigration overhaul among Christian conservatives has been growing over time. In 2011, the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention - the country's largest Protestant body - called for "a just and compassionate path to legal status" for illegal immigrants while urging the government to secure US borders.
A Public Religion Research Institute poll in 2010 showed white evangelicals support, by a margin of 2-1, an immigration reform that would allow illegal immigrants to become Americans.
After the election, a group of evangelical leaders signed a letter to Obama endorsing "a path toward legal status and/or citizenship" for immigrants. Among the signers was Tim Daly, president of the Focus on the Family ministry.
Immigration is providing a rare foray into bipartisanship for evangelical veterans of fights over gay marriage and abortion like lawyer Mathew Staver, vice president of Liberty University, founded by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia. Staver's Liberty Counsel group threatened to sue a Florida library in 2000 for promoting witchcraft by encouraging young people to read a Harry Potter novel. As recently as last Nov. 8, Staver wrote on Liberty Counsel's website that Obama won re-election because, "Millions of Americans looked evil in the eye and adopted it."
But now he acknowledges that Obama deserves credit, along with the Republican head of the House Judiciary Committee and Senators from both sides of the aisle, for drawing up plans for an immigration overhaul. "I think it is incumbent upon us to work together and I applaud the bipartisan committee in the Senate and I applaud the leadership of Bob Goodlatte," Staver said. "I applaud President Obama too, I just don't want to use this as a political ping pong."
But any talk of an alliance between the White House and evangelicals to win immigration reform is stretching it.
US Representative Doug Collins says hospitality to foreigners is fine but must be balanced with respect for immigration laws. "Scripture also teaches very clearly that there is government and civil authority and that there is an understanding of rule of law," said Republican Collins, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.