Currently there are an estimated 300 sanctuary states, counties, and cities across the U.S., but no model for sanctuary campuses. Calls for sanctuary campuses began in the wake of Donald Trump’s campaign pledges to repeal DACA and escalate deportations.
For the better part of 50 years, when I thought about Camden, N.J. — if I thought about the city at all — I’d envision driving as quickly as possible through a blighted urban wasteland to get across the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia.
I didn’t envision young people building boats in a deconsecrated church, or designing websites in a beautifully remodeled house whose walls are covered with original art, or being guided by caring adults through the traumas they’ve experienced and into health, wholeness, and academic achievement.
What a gift, then, to be reintroduced to the city through ministries that bring Camden’s human vitality to the surface, where it shines far above the daunting statistics upon which the city’s troubled reputation is built.
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch north of Atlanta, has helped resettle a Syrian family, despite an order from Gov. Nathan Deal that the state would not accept Syrian refugees.
Bryant Wright, the church’s pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told CNN Dec. 9 he understands the governor is “concerned about the security of the citizens of the state. But as Christians and as a church, we want to reach out with the love of Christ to these folks.”
He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his church had been planning to help the family before the recent attacks in France.
Rosa Robles spent 461 days inside a Tucson, Ariz., church after receiving a deportation order that would have separated her from her husband and children.
She has finally received an assurance from the federal government that she will not be deported, so on Nov. 11, she left the church for the first time in over one year.
After a prayer service outside her church turned violent last month, the Rev. Teresa Danieley, pastor of St. John’s Tower Grove, allowed those trying to escape the demonstrations to enter her church.
Now, Danieley and dozens of other clergy members are preparing to once again offer their churches as safe spaces, or sanctuaries.
The grand jury decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot African-American teenager Michael Brown, is expected by the end of the month, potentially triggering further civil unrest. Clergy anticipate some might seek refuge in churches, whether to escape violence or find fellowship.
Organizations such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition, which was formed after the death of Brown, and Metropolitan Congregations United, a group of interdenominational, multiracial congregations from around the region, are in the process of creating a list of churches that are volunteering the use of their space. Many of these churches will be packed with supplies such as food, water, and phone chargers. Medics, legal observers and counselors will also be on hand.
Some believe that unless officers are needed in an emergency, churches should also function as police-free zones during protests.
Zach Szmara, Pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., was on a conference call when a young man entered the church. He put the call on hold to walk out of the office and meet him. In broken English, the man said, "Are you the people that help immigrants?" The man had driven more than 20 miles because he heard rumors of a church that loved the stranger.
Szmara said, "In that moment I was both humbled and convicted. I was humbled that our small church had such a reputation. Yet I was convicted that it was only very recently that I could answer 'yes' to the burning question of this young immigrant who came to me."
"I have lived overseas, and there my eyes could easily see the marginalized and the stranger in my midst. But at home in the states, I almost missed it, and almost missed how God has enriched my life because of it," Szmara continued.
The issue of immigration has dominated the headlines for much of this year. As Christians, we believe that – regardless of where we each may stand on the political spectrum – God’s heart for the immigrant is clear. In fact, the Hebrew word for an immigrant appears 92 times in the Old Testament alone, and the New Testament says in no uncertain terms that however we, as Christians, treat the stranger in our midst, is how we are treating Jesus himself.
On Aug. 7 we lit a single white candle at the prayer service welcoming Rosa Robles Loreto into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. Almost 90 days later, that candle has been joined by five others, representing Luis Lopez Acabal, Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, Francisco Aguirre, Francisco Perez Cordova, and Arturo Hernandez. We are grateful that Beatriz was just granted a stay so that she could return to her home with her two small children, but the rest all remain in sanctuary.
As we approach Rosa’s 90th day in sanctuary, its time to replace the nearly burned down candle, but the light of radical Christian hospitality continues to not only burn bright, but spread throughout the nation.
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."
The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, a New Jersey pastor who granted sanctuary to an Indonesian immigrant, is scheduled to meet with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement public advocate on March 20.
But Kaper-Dale said he remains skeptical given the wording in the invitation.
“It’s an invitation to talk, but [says] ‘you’re breaking the law,’” he said.
Saul Timisela—who fled to the U.S. to escape religious persecution 14 years ago—has now lived in the Reformed Church of Highland Park in Newark, NJ for two weeks, avoiding deportation.
HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — Saul Timisela was ordered to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark early on the morning of March 1 to be deported.
Instead, the Indonesian Christian took sanctuary at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, where the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale is trying to save a group of Indonesian refugees who fled their country to escape religious persecution more than a decade ago.
Timisela may have felt safe given ICE's historical reticence to raid churches where illegal immigrants are being harbored. But at the same time, he was sorry to say goodbye to his wife of 10 years — another Indonesian Christian who's also in hiding because she has overstayed her visa and does not have an open case with the immigration agency.
LONDON — It looks like the stage of a West End theater. The tents are gathered around and almost up against the steps of the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each night, a General Assembly is held on those steps, and the sermons on inequality have a biblical ring to them.
This is Occupy London and the Occupiers were having their discussions with each other and visitors in the protective shadow of the Dome of St. Paul’s — as they should be. What a picture of the Incarnation, I thought, marveling at the scene.
What makes Christian faith most unique among all the religions of the world is, indeed, the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets — that’s what Incarnation means.
So here is the church in the midst of the international conversation that is changing the world — right where we should be.
It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!
And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!
Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.
I recently wrote a blog about how to kill a dying church, asking questions about what to do with so many churches dying. I think the challenge is recognizing the signs that a church is dying. The problem is that churches tend to wither, which is a slow, gradual, and often subtle process. It is difficult to pinpoint when in the withering process it is time to take action, to make changes, and to make some vital decisions. While there are many reasons for a church dying, here are some practical observations that I have noticed in my experience. This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is also a list that my congregation has personally had to face, so I give examples of how my congregation has addressed these issues.