“Evangelicals take seriously the many texts in Scripture regarding welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the sojourner, and the neglected,” says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “This sensibility makes them far more open to immigration than many would imagine.”

Citing various passages from the Bible, most especially the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, a coalition of prominent evangelical groups is pushing Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and specifically a pathway to citizenship for those living here illegally. The alliance, which includes Land’s Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, often cites that famous passage from Matthew: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Evangelicals have favored comprehensive immigration reform for years, but they now see a political and economic climate that is especially receptive for successful legislation. Their coalition, The Immigration Table, wrote a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders asking that any plan include the opportunity for illegal residents to gain citizenship.

That component, as evangelical leaders know, is a stumbling block on Capitol Hill, where conservatives are concerned about the term “amnesty.”