What Would Jesus Do? The Sanctuary Church Movement

What Would Jesus Do? The Sanctuary Church Movement May 1, 2017

Sanctuary Interior St John The Baptist

A guest blog by Dr. Linda Seger, author of Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians are Democrats.

Recently, I became part of a Sanctuary Coalition in Colorado Springs, representing the Quakers (along with 4 other Quakers). I have found that I need to take a stand on what I see happening in our government, and therefore have done a great deal of thinking about the command of Jesus to expand our idea of who our neighbor is. (Luke 10 – the Good Samaritan Story – plus many other verses.) I think of the call for a country to be Just and Merciful, to care for the poor and needy, the widows and orphans and the fatherless. There are thousands of verses in the Bible about this – in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

What would I have done In Nazi Germany?

I recently saw The Zookeeper’s Wife – and over the years have been drawn to the many films and books about people (many were Christians) who took a stand for the Jews in World War II, and in the 1980’s, helped the Nicaraguans who were fleeing persecution. This is, of course, not just about Christians, but about any groups of people who are persecuted by other groups of people.  It’s about governments and individuals who define some people as ‘The Other’ and decide who are the insiders and who are defined as “those outsider people.”

As my Christian faith has led me to have more concern and compassion, I have thought about how I might have acted if I lived in Nazi Germany. Would I have accepted the barriers between people? Would I have denied what was happening to other people? Would I have stood up for my Jewish neighbors, or for any other group of people that were bullied, taunted, or persecuted?

The beginnings of a local movement

Colorado Springs is new to the sanctuary movement. Pueblo and Denver are farther along than we are. Both cities, in one way or another, are working with us to answer questions, and help us move through the various issues involving sanctuary churches.

The first church which will be voting on this is All Soul’s Unitarian Church, which is holding forums with their congregation and will vote on this in May. They are starting to prepare a space and will add a shower if the congregation votes “yes”. The organizer of the new Sanctuary Coalition (one meeting so far) is First Congregational Church – a United Church of Christ. At the first meeting of the sanctuary coalition there were 2 of us Quakers, a Mennonite, American Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and several people representing Grupo Esperanza which works with undocumented immigrants.

In most of these churches, the discussions continue. As Quakers, we are a small group (15-20) without the space to house anyone, but we make our decisions by consensus. All the Quakers of our Meeting are on board to be a support network for the coalition and for the Unitarian Church, since they will probably be the first sanctuary church.

The Unitarian Church and Quaker Meeting in Denver are currently providing sanctuary for several people.

I went to a Meeting at the Unitarian Church today, representing the Quakers, to assure their congregation that they are not doing this alone. They are supported by a spiritual network of individuals, and some churches.

I have started to become educated about this idea of sanctuary.

ICE (the immigration agency) recognizes churches, hospitals, and schools as sanctuaries, which means they have never invaded those spaces to deport anyone. Of course, schools are only sanctuaries during the day, and hospitals only for brief hospital stays. So, sanctuary churches are important because they can take in those in danger for days, weeks, months, or longer. Most who take sanctuary are at a church for just a few months.

Sanctuary churches work with immigration groups, such as Grupo Esperanza, to vet, and choose the individuals or families for sanctuary. Usually they are people who are going through a process with ICE to give them Green Cards, or allow them to stay in the U.S. Often the children are citizens, and may have lived here all their lives – for 10 or 20 or 30 years. The babies might be citizens, but the parents are not, and the parents are in danger of being torn apart from their families, while ICE decides whether they’ll be deported. Many of these people check in with ICE yearly, and abide by all laws regarding their undocumented status.

I find it deplorable that families are being torn apart, and many of the children live in fear that they will come home from school and their parents will have been taken away (and that fear is well-founded.) Many parents are now making plans for who will take their children if they are forced to return to their countries – which will often put their lives in danger.

The government/ ICE already deports criminals. That’s been the policy for years. If someone is arrested for a criminal activity, they go through a legal process and are then deported. Immigrants commit fewer crimes than the general population.

But now, millions could be deported who are law-abiding, pay taxes and social security, and have been here for years, contributing to our economy (it is said that deporting all the millions that are threatened would take more than a trillion dollars out of our economy – and would be a real blow to the job growth and economic development we’ve had over the last few years.)

The realities of sanctuary living

We had a tour of where the family would live at the Unitarian Church. They have a good space in the basement of the church, which has a full kitchen, a sitting room, a bathroom, a room that would be converted to a bedroom. The children, who are usually citizens, would be allowed to go to school and play outside but any who are undocumented would have to stay within the walls of the church.

There was discussion about what would happen if an undocumented person had to leave to go to a doctor, and whether the person driving them would be “harboring a fugitive.” Both the person from First Congregational Church and myself agreed that we would be willing to do this – regardless of the law. But we are researching the law on this.

I feel a line has been crossed that is bringing out hatred of ‘The Other’ in our country, whether The Other is the Mexican, Muslim, the refugee, and at other times, the Jew, Christian, HIndu, Buddhist, lesbian, gay, transgender, women, black men, Hispanics – whatever. There is no ‘Other’, there is only us.

Of course, I’m for refugees and immigrants and anyone else being properly vetted -but diversity and immigrants add to our country, rather than subtract.

My friend, Tamara

Perhaps I’m especially sensitive because one of my childhood friends, Tamara, was a refugee from Latvia. Her family had been in a camp for a year or two and then were sponsored by the Methodist Church in our little town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. My sister and I were the first American children she met – when I was 7. She took piano lessons from my mother, entered music competitions with all of us, and her brothers and father got jobs in the paper mill. I often think of what it must have been like for Tamara, as a little child coming from a war-torn country, what she must have felt with the care & safety of the church and the town.

Sanctuary and Christian values

I am also learning about sanctuary cities – which are cities that have decided that they will not deport people who are stopped for minor traffic offenses but are undocumented. Trump has said that he will stop federal money from going to sanctuary cities, which currently include over 300 cities and counties, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Berkeley, New Orleans,  Newark, Santa Fe, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Spokane, Las Vegas, and Washington D.C. Trump’s home city of New York could lose $10.4 billion in funds – for Housing, Social Services such as Medicaid, Children’s Services. This would be very bad for the economy since it would take away funding for many jobs, from education, perhaps highways.  The threat is probably unconstitutional, and it makes no sense to me.

In Colorado, Boulder has declared itself a sanctuary city. In other cities, such as Denver and Colorado Springs, the city has not declared itself a sanctuary city, but have taken actions AS IF they are, meaning that police have simply said that they are too over-worked to be trying to arrest and deport people who are undocumented.

But those who are undocumented are threatened at any time – expecting the knock at the door, which could tear them apart from their families, and diminish their hopes of a safe and stable and good life. It reminds me too much of what has happened too often around the world. These are not family values or Christian values. I feel my faith encourages me, I believe even commands me, to stand with these other spiritual communities.

photo credit: maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

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