A friend posted a meme on Facebook that caught my attention. The meme quoted verses from the Book of Leviticus, of which I don’t often find myself quoting, but I found this passage particularly relevant to the current immigration issues we are facing as Christians and as a nation. “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NRSV). How are we to respond to the flood of political and religious refugees in our country? The country is sharply divided. Some communities and churches have responded by establishing sanctuary sites.
A Sanctuary City is a city that has adopted a policy of protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws of the country in which they are living illegally. There are currently over 140 sanctuary jurisdictions, states, counties and cities, in our country where local governments have either by law or practice refused to prosecute undocumented aliens. While, more than half of our states have sanctuary sites, Ohio is not among them. As this has become an increasingly controversial issue, new leadership has threatened to to cut off federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to enforce immigration laws and deportation efforts. Churches and houses of worship have responded by offering assistance and sanctuary for illegal immigrants through the Sanctuary Movement. Although the Sanctuary Movement has been around since the 1980’s to provide a safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict, the number of churches involved has doubled to over 450 in just the past couple of months! US immigration policy prevents agents from raiding churches and houses of worship to extradite individuals except when it can be proven that they pose a security risk. Therefore, a number of these churches have provided housing in their facilities for individuals and families who face deportation. Should that policy ever be at risk of being abolished, we could soon witness a number of ugly confrontations in our nation’s churches!
The idea of sanctuary havens for immigrants seeking religious or political refuge in either government jurisdictions or religious institutions is not something new. It goes back thousands of years and has been associated with Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism among other faiths. The book of Numbers, for instance, lists six cities of refuge in which the Levites would live and where even perpetrators of manslaughter could find refuge from reprisal before a trial could take place. The involvement of churches providing sanctuary sites continued to be controversial early in the Holy Roman Church and on through medieval England, pitting citizens, governmental and religious leaders against one another over the issue. Christians are still divided over this issue today. What do you think? Are sanctuary churches breaking the law, or are they justifiably responding to a moral obligation? These are the sort of things that I hope can lead to discussions that will make us more committed and responsive to the needs of others in our society.