COLUMBIA – Bridgeway Community Church founder and senior pastor David Anderson already reaches out to his diverse congregation and conducts ministries worldwide, so when the call came to apply Scripture to immigration reform, answering it seemed natural.
Anderson, 46, is one of several Maryland evangelical ministers to join a nationwide effort to tackle immigration reform through biblical readings.
That initiative is the “I Was a Stranger…” immigration prayer challenge. The challenge was announced on a conference call Monday by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of Christian leaders from organizations around the country, including Baltimore-based humanitarian organization World Relief, that support bipartisan immigration reform.
“This is not just about awareness. This is about ensuring that our response to immigration both in the local communities and as in regards to public policy that we support, that it is driven by biblical principles,” said Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, one of the groups involved in the immigration prayer effort.
Immigration is expected to be a hot topic in the coming months – President Barack Obama has said he will make changes in immigration policy a priority of his second term.
Challenge participants, including churches, communities and legislators, are encouraged to read one passage of Scripture daily for 40 days, each verse selected by challenge organizers to connect readers with the Bible’s message of compassion for strangers, said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief.
An advantage of the Scripture-based approach, said Yang, is that it’s less controversial than direct support for a policy or measure.
“Churches have been saying this is easy because you’re not asking us to support a specific bill or piece of legislation, but instead asking people to read the Bible,” she said.
Leaders are hopeful that the selected passages will guide readers to conclusions in line with the Evangelical Immigration Table’s stance.
Rooted in the belief that the Bible calls for protection of strangers in a foreign land, the Evangelical Immigration Table seeks immigration reform that respects the individual and protects the family unit while upholding the rule of law and accounting for issues of national security.
Anderson’s personal views on immigration are more nuanced. “Like everyone else you want people to be here legally and the ones who aren’t, you want them to be able to rectify that which is wrong, but when you have so many inconsistent broken laws and/or departments of the government with such a backlog, in such division over how to handle immigrants, I see it as a conundrum,” he said.
Anderson won’t push politics from the church stage, he said, but he is willing to do so on “Afternoons with Dr. David Anderson,” his daily one-hour show on Christian radio station WAVA-FM 105.1.
“Preaching the Bible won’t get you in trouble because it’s the call of God. Preaching policy on how you live out the Bible can,” he said.
“When you’re dealing with the Christian community, especially the evangelical Christian community, if you do not give them a biblical mindset on any social issue, they think it’s simply a sociological trend…” Anderson said. “If you just put something in their hands and tell them to do it, they’re gonna resist it and they may throw it back at you.”
Although this is the first time he’s asked his nearly 4,000 member congregation to take part in a nationwide project, Anderson doesn’t expect to meet resistance when he presents the immigration prayer challenge.
During his monthly state-of-the-church address on Jan. 27, Anderson will show the two-minute “I Was a Stranger…” video, featuring evangelical leaders reading Scripture, in the church’s 1,100-seat auditorium. He’ll also distribute bookmarks listing the 40 selected passages to be read over the course of the challenge.
“There is no opportunity to love that our (congregation) has not responded positively to,” said Anderson, adding that compassion for immigrants is one element of the church’s year-long theme: love out loud.
For the Bridgeway Community Church, part of that compassion comes in the form of the church’s language education ministries. Those ministries offer citizen test preparation classes, as well as language classes in English, Korean, and Spanish. The church also partners with the Columbia-based Foreign-born Information and Referral Network.
Those projects are consistent with the mission of his church, which emerged from a vision he and his wife Amber, a Korean immigrant, shared more than 20 years ago.
Although on the air he brands himself as “Your Bridge Building Voice in the Nation’s Capital,” Anderson knows he can’t work alone when it comes to immigration.
“The government has to be the bridge-building agency that opens the door and says here’s how we’re going to help you become legal or documented,” he said.