As many of you already know, the ELCA voted to be a “sanctuary church body” at the Churchwide Assembly in Wisconsin. You will hear me speak what it means and doesn’t mean in my sermon that follows this note. For a fuller explanation, click on this link: What Does Becoming a Sanctuary Denomination mean for the ELCA?
You will likely not be surprised to know that I have heard two different responses to this action. In a nutshell, they go like this: “I am so proud of our ELCA for doing this;” and, “using the word sanctuary was a mistake.” So a couple of words about both responses and then an invitation.
I, too, am proud of our denomination for publicly identifying with the plight of immigrants and refugees who come to this country. If there is one thing we can usually agree on, it is that it is the calling of the church to stand with people who are vulnerable and in need of help. In a time when a good portion of the “Christian Church” has been co-opted politically, it is important that we make a public witness of the Christian mandate to welcome the stranger and the outcast.
I can also hear the concerns of members who have asked, “why the word ‘sanctuary”? The word itself has come to be a shorthand for congregations and cities that resist current laws around immigration. And, the ELCA is clear that it is not asking (let alone mandating) that any congregation break the law. Some other language would have been clearer and more helpful.
So, where does that leave us? First, it is important that we not shy away from our calling to stand with the outsider and the oppressed. What does it mean to stand with, speak out on behalf of those who are in search of a home where they can safely raise their children? How can we partner with organizations like Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest who work with the US Government to settle refugees in Arizona and help with the reunification of families separated at the border?
Second, let us listen to each other. I do believe that there are things we can learn from each other whether we believe this action is the best thing the ELCA has done in ages or if we think it is misguided and even harmful. Let’s not use this action of our Church as one more excuse not to listen and to learn from each other. Together, we have a fuller take on both the possibilities and the challenges of following in the way of Jesus, who himself had no place to lay his head.
Once we’re all back in Fountain Hills this Fall/Winter, we will have opportunities to listen and talk with each other, and we will have Lutheran Social Services join us for a conversation about how we can support them in their mission with refugees. In the meantime, please take every opportunity to listen, especially to people who see things differently than you do. This alone is a powerful witness to our world.