As a people of faith committed to dismantling oppressive systems and building structures and communities that reflect God’s compassion and justice, we must do nothing less than make straight a highway in the desert for our sisters and brothers. The bible has numerous injunctions that instruct us not to wrong or oppress the alien in our midst (Exodus 22:21 & 23:9, Leviticus 19:33, 23:22 & 24:22, Numbers 15:16, Deuteronomy 24:20-21 & 27:19, Jeremiah 7:6-7, Zechariah 7:10, and Malachi 3:5). Jesus is clear that the righteous inherit eternal life because “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). He also makes clear that our failure to address his need results in the condemnation of the unrighteous because “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me” (Matthew 25:43). Our baptismal vows require us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer p. 305).
For more information contact the Rev. Theodore Foley, Dcn.
SANCTUARY- Frequently Asked Questions
What is “Sanctuary”?
Historically, the term “sanctuary” has been used to describe a Christian tradition whereby churches would shelter people from a variety of unjust situations. However, the Immigration Task force and the Anti-Racism Commission of the Diocese of NJ, has adopted a more modern and broader definition as follows:
A sanctuary church is one that is compelled by its faith in Christ Jesus and the Baptismal Covenant to provide a welcoming safe haven to deliver any of a constellation of resources to those who are currently experiencing fear, discrimination, and prejudice resulting from the actions of individuals or unjust laws, policies, or practices.
Why become a sanctuary diocese?
The wider Episcopal Church has repeatedly passed resolutions in support of fair refugee and immigration policies. By passing a resolution in 2017, the Diocese of NJ will covenant that it will be consistent with the Baptismal Covenant and with biblical mandates such as, “not to wrong or oppress a resident alien” (Exodus 22:21). This resolution is a covenant for the Diocese to organize a constellation of support systems for the “resident alien”. Although the 2017 resolution urges, it does not require any congregation to become a sanctuary.
Why do we need sanctuary churches?
Many people in our parishes and our communities are experiencing fear and discrimination as a result of expectant changes in immigration policy and the hostile climate that this has created. Children are afraid that they will be separated from their parents. Parents fear they may be split from their children. Some fear that they will be forced to return to their country of origin and experience violence or persecution. We need sanctuary churches to minister to these needs that our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing.
Why are churches involved in sanctuary?
Ministering to the needs of an “alien” is well founded in Christian tradition. Scripture tells us, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9); and “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). Our Gospels call us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Importantly, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus radically redefined the notion of neighbor. Finally, providing a constellation of sanctuary is consistent with our Baptismal Covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself’.
What are some examples of the constellation of resources?
A sanctuary church is a haven where people can be welcomed and to worship without fear. A sanctuary church can be a haven where people can experience the healing power of Christ. It can also be a place where people can collect information on their legal rights. A sanctuary church can be a safe place where people can assemble for peer support and pastoral care from their local clergy. A sanctuary church can be a safe haven to organize for advocacy to change laws and for the rights of an individual. In rare circumstance, a sanctuary church might provide shelter for people while their legal options are being processed.
Is sheltering people in sanctuary hiding them from the law?
No! Sheltering in sanctuary is never done in secret. The purpose of sanctuary is not to evade law enforcement. The purpose of sanctuary is to shelter or provide resources to the individual or family while all legal channels are being pursued. Immigration law is very complex and often subjective. The issues are rarely black and white. Sheltering in sanctuary allows time for all legal pathways to be exhausted.
How can we justify offering sanctuary to those whose immigration status is uncertain?
Immigration law is extremely complex and often subjective. The role of the church in offering sanctuary is to be compassionate not judgmental. Every human being in this country, regardless of immigration status, has a right to Due Process so that the legal system can make a final determination. Sanctuary provides a safe refuge and helps protect the rights of the individual and the integrity of the family while all legal options are pursued.
Should my parish become a ‘sanctuary church’?
There are a variety of resources that can be provided by a sanctuary church. Each parish needs to engage in discernment, dialogue, and prayer over the specific role(s) that it may choose to play. The discernment needs to be throughout the community and there needs to be consensus.
Sanctuary in the News
Bishops’ Statement Concerning the President’s Travel Ban. January 30, 2017.
Johnson, Pat. Local Rector Favors Sanctuary Resolution Adopted by Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. The Sand Paper. March 8, 2017.
Where can I find more information?
Immigration Task Force, the Anti-Racism Commission, and the Hispanic Commission of the Diocese of NJ – February 2017