There is a nonviolent uprising around immigration happening in Philadelphia and a dozen other U.S. cities. Philadelphia faith leaders announced that they will welcome immigrant families even if it is against the law. They are building a movement of "sanctuary congregations" and have dreams that the U.S. will one day be a sanctuary nation.
We join them in insisting that we must obey the laws of God over the laws of our government — and that means "welcoming the foreigner as if they were our own flesh and blood." (Exodus 22:21, Lev.19:34, etc., etc.).
Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him. When God asks: "When I was a stranger did you welcome me?" (Mt. 25) we are not going to say: "Sorry God, Congress wouldn't let us."
We know that sometimes divine obedience can mean civil disobedience.
As St. Augustine once said: "An unjust law is no law at all."
Some Christians will ask, "But what about Romans 13 where Paul says we must submit to the authorities?" To that we say with Martin Luther King and the early Christians who went to jail (including Paul himself): submission does not always mean obedience. There are two ways to submit. One way is by obeying the good laws. The other way is by respectfully disobeying the bad laws. That's how we put the bad laws on trial in public — and change them.
So this week, dozens of faith leaders made this announcement:
On Wednesday … New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia joined a dozen cities nation-wide in announcing that our member congregations will provide physical sanctuary to immigrant families with final deportation orders. We defy President Obama's inhumane immigration policies by moving families into three of our member congregations, the Philadelphia Praise Center, a Mennonite congregation in South Philadelphia, Tikkun Olam Chavurah, a Germantown-based Jewish community, and West Kensington Ministry in North Philadelphia.
Immigrant families will move into our member congregations and refuse to leave in a faith-driven civil disobedience against mass deportation. This act of civil disobedience fights the individual case and highlights the injustice of current immigration law.
"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
WELCOME A STRANGER AS GOD HAS WELCOMED ALL OF US.
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President .