The Rev. Jim Goodroe was driving down Interstate 85 toward Atlanta one morning when, as sometimes happened in the quiet of a long trip, he sensed God's presence.

Goodroe had been pondering a problem. He was trying to help a colleague find a South Carolina pastor to record a radio ad to promote biblical arguments for overhauling the nation's immigration laws.

The commercial would run statewide as part of a national campaign by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of religious leaders, to persuade conservative Christians, particularly Republicans, to back a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.

Goodroe, the missions director for a network of Southern Baptist churches, had pastors in mind. But in this buckle of the Bible Belt, where religion and politics intertwine, it was a very big request. One pastor had already declined.

A moment of clarity stirred inside him.

"The Lord seemed to say: 'Why don't you do that spot? You're the most immigrant-friendly evangelical in South Carolina,'" Goodroe recalled.

He pulled his 2002 Honda Civic into a rest stop and texted his colleague.

"If you want me to do the spot, I'll do it."

Religion guides Goodroe's interest in changing the nation's immigration laws. He cites the message in both the Old and New Testaments to welcome and comfort the "stranger."

Within days of agreeing to do so, Goodroe recorded the commercial, which began airing in the spring on Christian and conservative talk stations.

"Christ calls evangelicals to compassion and justice," he says in the ad, in a slow Southern cadence. "So please join a growing movement of Christians asking our political leaders for immigration solutions rooted in biblical values, which reflect each person's God-given dignity, respect the rule of law, protect family unity, guarantee secure borders, ensure fairness to taxpayers and establish a path toward citizenship."

The message was meant to appeal to the compassion of churchgoers. But it also tapped a well of distrust of President Obama.

"When I hear from critics, usually early in the conversation, they'll say, 'I'm against Obama, and this helps Obama,'" Goodroe said.

"I'm trying to win spiritual converts, not political converts," he said. "As a Christian, I'm saying, we have to do what the Bible tells us to do — whether or not it advances our politics."

Goodroe understands the challenge he faces.

"I got an email telling me to go to hell," he said, flashing a quick smile.

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Goodroe, 66, is a reliable Republican whose last brush with politics was when he was elected president of his fraternity at the University of Georgia. He grew up in the segregated South, married his college sweetheart and raised three sons.

He had never met an "international," as he calls immigrants, until he moved to South Carolina's upcountry more than a decade ago.

The state, the birthplace of the Civil War, was home not long ago mostly to families with deep Southern roots. Many worked in its textile mills and peach orchards. In the last decade, Latinos and other immigrants increasingly have arrived. Tiendas and taquerias now dot the landscape around Spartanburg.