As January 20th approaches and confirmation hearings begin for the Trump administration’s cabinet appointments, people all over the country are organizing and preparing to resist any dangerous and hateful action by the President-Elect and his team, churches and other religious communities among them. One of the ways that places of worship are committing to help those affected by possibly harmful legislation is offering sanctuary. This can mean a number of things to communities of faith, but primarily this means housing an individual facing deportation or arrest while lawyers and advocates work out solutions on behalf of them. There was a significant sanctuary movement in the 80’s that sought to protect Central American refugees who were fleeing violence in Guatemala and El Salvador, and it seems that the looming specter of a Trump Administration has ignited the movement once again.
The danger that many feel a Trump presidency poses to the US’s immigrant population centers around his inflammatory and hard right stance on immigration and refugees. Trump routinely promised on the campaign trail to deport nearly 2-3 million undocumented immigrants, saying in an interview on 60 minutes, “What we’re going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records…we are getting them out of our country”. On top of this, he has promised to repeal the executive order known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which prevents those undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children from being deported for a period of two years and allows them to apply for work authorization. Since its establishment, nearly 800,000 eligible individuals have applied for DACA, publicly outing themselves as undocumented with the promise of protection. Senator Jeff Sessions (Trump’s nominee for Attorney General), at his confirmation hearing this morning affirmed that a Department of Justice under President Trump would have the constitutional grounds for repealing the order, confirming the very real threat that these individuals face.
In light of this, churches and religious communities all over the country have come forward to declare that they will provide sanctuary for those individuals facing deportation, in defiance of the incoming administration. Under the Obama Presidency particular spaces have been respected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including churches, hospitals, and schools, and have not been raided to make arrests. However, no one is certain whether or not a Trump administration would maintain this practice. This makes for some very uncertain and frightening possibilities for immigrants and for the churches who are stepping forward to provide sanctuary. No one is really sure what is going to happen.
The church I work for, and many of our neighboring congregations, have been in a process of discernment about sanctuary for the better part of a month. Many of our leadership has been attending training and informational meetings through ISAIAH, and last Sunday a young woman, who is herself one of the “Dreamers” who have received protection under DACA, spoke to our congregation about what is at stake for her if DACA is repealed. She would be separated from her family and deported to a country that hasn’t been her home for most of her life; a country that holds a significant amount of pain and trauma in her memory. When this young woman stood up and told her story through tears I suddenly grasped the importance of this movement. I have always been a supporter of the sanctuary movement, but it wasn’t until I heard her speak that I realized how vitally important the Church’s stand could be.
It seems to me that as Christians it is our responsibility to provide sanctuary to those who seek it. It is not merely an opportunity for service, it is the very thing that the Gospel calls us to do. And, as the Church, called to follow Christ and bring forth the Kingdom of God, it is the very thing we must do. The Jesus we encounter in the Gospels routinely stands in opposition of wayward and violent power, be it state or religious, and implores his followers to care for the least among us. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:34-36). This theme is encountered throughout Christian and Hebrew scripture; “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” (Lev 19:33-34), “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). We are called to provide for those in need and to protect those in danger.
I would argue that the Benedictine tradition also affirms this fundamental principle of Christian hospitality. Benedict says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. This idea of welcoming all as Christ has been on my mind daily since first reading the Rule, and I have tried to drill it deep into my being and to act in accordance with its wisdom. It stands now as a challenge to the Church in the US, as we enter into the next four years under an administration who has promised to target immigrants, refugees, and minorities. How do we welcome all as Christ, while simultaneously refusing to provide aid when we are able? How is it that we can claim to care for the least among us, while allowing dangerous state power to rip apart families and deport millions of our neighbors? It seems to me that we must pick a side, and take a stand.
I am grateful that so many churches have either declared themselves Sanctuary Congregations, or have begun the discernment process to do so. I know that many churches and religious communities simply do not have the space or resources to house undocumented immigrants, but I hope that they will find ways to support the movement with their time and money as they are able. The Trump administration poses a very real threat to so many people in our country, and I truly believe that Christians have a responsibility to stand between the powerful and the victims of power. If our brothers and sisters call for help, we must be prepared to respond in love and in welcome. We must say no to the abuse of power, and to unjust laws that destroy lives. We must reject the fear and hatred that so often divide us. When called on to provide sanctuary, we must provide it.
If you would like more information about the sanctuary movement here are some places to begin:
ISAIAH – in MN
 Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English
*Photo Courtesy of kristintangen.com