From Rev. Kent, Kentucky Council of Churches Prayer in Action Tuesdays, Contact your Representative in Congress
Christ the Way, the Truth, the Light
The term “sanctuary” is quickly becoming a source of conflict on the public stage. Sanctuary in the church context implies the location of worship, the hope of refuge from a turbulent world, a holiness set in contrast to our everyday life.
In centuries old traditions, church settings also served as legal sanctuaries, an emergency stopgap to prosecution until such time as the justification for incarceration could be determined. In medieval European law, someone wanted for a crime could enter a church, lay down their weapons, and be given sanctuary protection as long as they were on church grounds.
In practice, this was usually a delaying tactic until evidence of guilt or innocence could be shared with the community, authorities, or priests. It slowed the process so that evidence could be examined carefully. It provided a kind of interruption in any unchecked or overzealous prosecutions.
In the 1980s a modern practice of legal sanctuary was revived. The US wars in central America generated thousands of refugees and politically persecuted individuals. Because the US was supporting the regimes doing the persecution, however, all political asylum claims and immigration attempts were rejected. Canada provided a safe haven, but to get there many fleeing for their lives entered the US without papers trying to get north.
Churches of many denominations committed to human rights offered sanctuary protection to families and individuals in those circumstances. It too, sought an interruption to the juggernaut of unfair policies, and helped focus media and civil attention on the deeper issues.
While outraged with this civil disobedience, the Reagan administration wisely decided that televised armed raids on houses of worship would sour the public on wars of already dubious value.
Agencies were instructed to respect and not pursue alleged violators into those sanctuary spaces. That meant some persons had to live in church buildings for over a year until a deal could be worked out or they could be smuggled to Canada for political asylum, and it meant some were arrested as soon as they stepped onto public property. The neutral safe space of congregations, however, remained unviolated.
With new directives handed down by government officials within days of this writing, I fear we are entering a time when once again the church must provide a bulwark against dangerous and grave political abuses, ones that make the infractions of previous administrations seem paltry by comparison.
Gag orders, removal of US scientific information from public access, jailing journalists who covered protests against the new president, and the threat of dire sanctions and prosecutions of immigrants, Muslim U.S. citizens, and innocent refugees are just a few of Mr. Trump’s actions in the first days of his presidency. I have little hope that those offering sanctuary of any kind will be afforded much regard by this administration unless people of faith make their voice heard.
As a pastor and a disciple, the idea of a sanctuary is one I have devoted my life to: a way of being that reflects the sanctity of certain principles: the equality of all created by God, the justice God calls for from those who follow, and the compassion of Jesus exhibited to all without fear or favor.
But we cannot be or have holy sanctuaries by simply retreating from the world and sticking our head in the sand. God’s people and God’s buildings are intended to support Christian principles and demonstrate God’s love in action, and that is what makes them holy. To stand for just treatment, to interrupt blind zealotry, to promote and provide safety and security: these are what sanctify a space and a people. As every newscast demonstrates, we need true sanctuaries more than ever. We need the refuge of law and holy, humble, but just and honorable action.
We cannot, we must not, allow our country to deteriorate into the depravity so lately lauded by some now in power. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. No self-serving persecutions, exclusions, deliberate lies, “alternative facts,” or obfuscating tantrums can substitute. Accepting the cost of discipleship to Jesus, may we always be a living sanctuary for Christ’s way, a holy, inviolable well-spring of God’s justice and joy.
Visit this website to find out who represents you in Congress by searching by zipcode or state. To get started, simply enter your zip code or select a state below. You will be presented with your representative’s contact information & links to various other information regarding your politician. http://www.whoismyrepresentative.com/
Kentucky Council of Churches is hosting Prayer in Action Days at the State Capitol each Tuesday during General Assembly to pray for government officials and act on behalf of Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., these are the topics:
Feb. 7 Justice Reform/Restorative Justice
Feb. 14 Gun Violence
Feb. 21 Healthcare/Disabilities
Feb. 28 Death Penalty
Mar. 7 Environment/Energy
Mar. 14 Immigrants/Refugees