Sunday, November 04, 2007

The New Sanctuary Movement

I write a monthly column for my church newsletter, and I thought this month's topic was suitable for more general consumption.

In 2007 we have been exploring the promises in our St. John’s Vision Statement and how they relate to the decisions we each make in our daily lives. This month I would like to look at two powerful statements, specifically:

We are a sanctuary, a haven where people can come, knowing their needs will be met and they will be safe.


We are a School for Christian Education, where we use our resources to study, learn, and understand the word of God and the Holy Scriptures…to challenge ourselves and seek the answers to the great questions of our time. More importantly, we provide our children the moral foundation to know the peace of God’s love, a faith that will guide them throughout their lives.

The idea of church as sanctuary has taken on new meaning in recent months, as Americans have followed the case of Elvira Arellano, an illegal Mexican immigrant who holed up in a Chicago Methodist church for nearly a year before being deported this past August. She had sought sanctuary in the church because she was being called to a deportation hearing and did not want to be separated from her seven-year-old son, an American citizen. The legalities of the case are clear. Arellano had twice entered the country illegally, had already been deported once before, and the traditional belief that people are protected from arrest in a church is not recognized under U.S. law.

The morality of her situation is less cut and dry, and poses a dilemma for all of us who call ourselves Christians as our nation struggles to re-define its immigration policies. Pastor Walter Coleman said his congregation offered Arellano (an active parishioner) refuge after praying about her plight, saying he did not believe Arellano should have to choose between leaving her son behind or removing him from his home (to take him with her to Mexico). "She represents the voice of the undocumented, and we think it's our obligation, our responsibility, to make a stage for that voice to be heard," he said.

We are unlikely to be called on to shelter an illegal alien here at St. John’s, but our delegates will be called to vote on a resolution at the annual Diocesan convention in New York next week. The resolution, submitted by Rev. Richard Witt of the Rural & Migrant Ministry, reads as follows:

Pledge Of Support For The New Sanctuary Movement

Resolved, That the Episcopal Diocese of New York acknowledge that the large-scale immigration of workers and their families to the United States is a complex historical, global and economic phenomenon that has many causes and does not lend itself to simplistic or purely reactive public policy solutions.

That we stand together in our faith that everyone, regardless of national origin, has basic common rights, including but not limited to: 1) livelihood; 2) family unity; and 3) physical and emotional safety. We witness the violation of these rights under current immigration policy, particularly in the separation of children from their parents due to unjust deportations, and in the exploitation of immigrant workers. We are deeply grieved by the violence done to families through immigration raids. We cannot in good conscience ignore such suffering and injustice.

Resolved, That we in the Episcopal Diocese of New York commit ourselves to:
1. Support the New Sanctuary Movement and;
2. Promote the New Sanctuary Movement within our denomination and congregations and among our other allies.

The Diocese has long welcomed immigrants and championed their just treatment. Many of our congregations have worked hard to ensure that the humanity and dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters are upheld. The New Sanctuary Movement is a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and participating congregations, called by our faith to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States. The New Sanctuary Movement pledge outlines three goals including taking a public, moral stand on behalf of immigrant families and workers; opening the American people’s eyes to the suffering of immigrant workers and families under current policies; and protecting immigrants against hate, workplace discrimination and unjust deportation. The Movement aims to enlist millions of people of faith through signing of the New Sanctuary Movement pledge and other moral and material support.
(end of Resolution)

One of the things I love about St. John’s is our commitment to Adult Christian Education, where both scripture and cultural issues are discussed and prayed about. This issue of sanctuary is likely to be on the table for some time to come, and I look forward to our discussions of what we believe Christ calls us to do.

And, as our nation grapples with these issues, we here at St. John’s can and will be true to our Vision Statement, challenging ourselves to seek answers to the great questions of our time.

Respectfully submitted,
Liz Nealon

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