ELCA First Sanctuary Denomination, But Then: That Time A White Male Pastor Waits Two Days To Deflate A Radical Denominational Statement

ELCA First Sanctuary Denomination, But Then: That Time A White Male Pastor Waits Two Days To Deflate A Radical Denominational Statement August 11, 2019

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (God)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Jesus)

I’m not going to make this long, but I will make it pointed. I’m not interested in whitewashing or weakening the vote of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America last week to become a sanctuary denomination.

But apparently, some of my colleagues are.

So, when Fox News issued a hit piece on us.

My colleague responded with this widely shared letter.

The main problem with his letter: it never once, never ONCE, mentions the main focus of sanctuary, which historically since the 1980s and into the present with the New Sanctuary movement has included providing sanctuary for undocumented folks who come to the church.

By declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” congregations were committed to providing shelter, protection, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees.

The ELCA, by declaring itself sanctuary, is doing the same. Higgins Road in Chicago should be checking their showers and laundry facilities and kitchens to make sure they’re all in good order, so undocumented folks can seek sanctuary.

But Andrew Lewis’s letter never mentions this once.

Not once.

Not once.

As if sanctuary were about all the other things, but not that.

This is worse than the Fox New hit piece. This is worse than all kinds of lies.

Because it weakens, almost immediately, the historic action of the ELCA.

The ELCA declared itself a sanctuary denomination.

We did. So we should now lean into it, lead with it, be bold with it, take risks with it, shelter those seeking asylum.

We are sanctuary, and I’m sorry, but no Andrew. No. We are not going to weaken that into cheap advocacy.

Author’s note: I mistakenly ascribed this letter to Andrew Bell, when the author of the letter was Andrew Lewis. I have corrected this in the post.

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  • TLars

    “The ELCA, by declaring itself sanctuary, is doing the same. Higgins Road
    in Chicago should be checking their showers and laundry facilities and
    kitchens to make sure they’re all in good order, so undocumented folks
    can seek sanctuary.” Yup. Talk is cheap.

  • janjello

    Whats the big flap about this? Since when have churches NOT been sanctuaries??? No one comes into my congregation and dares ask for proof of citizenship. It is not going to happen. But let me tell you what WILL happen: PEOPLE will be fed, people will be clothed, people will be communed, people will sing and listen to the Word of God, people will be provided housing, people will be helped with their needs, people will be invited to become part of this community of faith. Nothing has changed. The CHURCH will be the CHURCH. If some congregations do not want to do this ministry, then they are free to not participate and they will not be kicked out of the ELCA or anything else for that matter.

  • TLars

    I’ve gone through Synod training for the ELCA AMMPARO program along with two of our church members. We attend Federal Immigration Court on the days when children unaccompanied by parents are ordered to appear. All we do is let them know that we are there for them to give moral support, pass them some information about legal services if needed, and say a prayer with them in Spanish if they wish. We give four hours of our time every three months to participate.

    This is not a “sanctuary” program as Andrew Lewis characterized it in his letter. During the training, I asked the ELCA representative how many churches nation-wide provide living space in their churches for migrants facing deportation. It wasn’t very many. I believe she said were about three that she knew of in the US.

    So I have to agree with Clint that calling our denomination a “Sanctuary Church” — meaning a church that provide sanctuary for migrants facing deportation — is a big deal. If the ELCA wants congregations to volunteer to become churches that house migrant people who are in trouble, then that is going to be a great challenge. Not impossible…. but costly in time, talent and treasure for congregations that participate. The point is that the ELCA must make a serious commitment to become a “Sanctuary Church” in this sense. Advocacy for migrants does not make our denomination a “Sanctuary Church”. Physically providing sanctuary in our church buildings, or somewhere off-site that may count as a sanctuary, would indeed make the ELCA a “Sanctuary Church”. Talk is cheap. Doing this ministry is something else entirely. The ELCA should acknowledge this — and provide appropriate publicity and support to make it happen. It means stepping up.

  • When I read the title for your piece, I thought you were going in a different direction to critique the ELCA’s lack of full support for the Poor People’s Campaign. We giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

  • Jason Carpp

    I agree. I’m all for providing temporary sanctuary to refugees from anywhere they don’t feel safe.

  • billwald

    Interesting. Bellevue, WA, is across Lake Washington from the Soviet of Seattle and must still have a couple of patriotic Americans in residence.