Sanctuary – a contentious issue for our time
A society reveals a great deal of its shadow side through its treatment of the vulnerable stranger. On Sunday, I announced an initiative being spearheaded by First Unitarian for the formation of a Sanctuary Coalition of faith communities and other non-profits serving the needs of the wider community. It’s natural to find among communities such as St Martin’s a range of attitudes to the notion of Sanctuary. Sanctuary has a long history. Under the Law of Moses, a fugitive could claim sanctuary by clasping the horns of the altar in the Tent of Meeting and later the Jerusalem Temple. It’s not clear how sacrosanct this protection was but offering sanctuary protection in the holiest of holy places was clearly the intention of the Law. Medieval Christian practice enshrined in Common Law practice continued this Biblical protection. A fugitive able to gain entry to a church was protected from civil arrest.
In ancient societies the point of sanctuary was to provide a break on the very instinctual human desire for instant vengeance – a discouragement to those whose first impulse is to take the law into their own hands. Translated into the contemporary American context, sanctuary seeks to draw our attention to the way our law enforcement agencies – in this case ICE, aggressively executes its powers against the most vulnerable, often it seems in direct contravention of State legal protections and Federal statute covering the right to claim asylum.
This nation was built on the desire of our forebears to build a life free from the age-old persecutions of class, race, and religion as practiced in Old Europe. Today’s tide of migration towards the US is similarly motivated. People don’t leave their homes and families unless circumstances are driving them to risk life and limb in pursuit of a place to live and work in relative safety from persecution. The real task is to renew funding to support the development of civil societies especially in the Central American Northern Triangle – Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. However, as a society our export of guns and import of drugs provide a toxic mix that only further destabilizes civil society in the countries to our global south.
Regardless of whether you are in favor of creating places of safety from arbitrary arrest rooted in the historic Biblical and Common Law protection of sanctuary or not, can we not all agree that the way we are currently dealing with the immigration crisis on the border betrays our deepest values as Americans and constitutes a deep affront to everything we stand for as Christians? We have to solve this crisis. We can disagree on the best way to do this. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the way the migration pressures are currently being responded to in our name.
Sometimes the only thing left to us when the organs of representative democracy fail us is to protest. Protest is a sacred duty. Put simply, I am very reluctant for
St. Martin’s to become a sanctuary community. Therefore, this compels me to support communities bolder and braver than we might feel able to be. It is for this reason that I encourage those of you who feel able to, to support the establishment of a Sanctuary Coalition of faith communities and possibly attend the meeting planned for
Monday May 20
at the First Unitarian Church
on 1 Benevolent St.
See you in Church, on Sunday.