Seeking Sanctuary

Maybe you can help me…

I’m wondering how something like sanctuary can become a dirty word (after all, it has more than 4 letters), a controversial subject, a threatening idea that elicits threats from others?

The “sacred space” in our church building is called “the sanctuary”; just so you know, I think all space and place is sacred since it’s all God’s, but that is another discussion for another time.  It is where we gather for worship, where we sing and pray and share scripture and communion.  It isn’t the only place where we do such things, but it is designed and designated for them.  You may have come into that space or one like it yourself seeking sanctuary – a time and place apart from the vexing things in your life.  Isn’t it good to have such a space and place available?

Others have and do come at times when conditions in their lives are hard, crazy, overwhelming–even dangerous.  They are looking for a place where they can breathe and breathe easy, at least for a while, without fear or threat.  To seek and find sanctuary is to be safe.  That is a basic need and desire.

To offer sanctuary is to provide a place for another where she won’t be harmed, where he won’t be hauled away.  The people who hid Jews from Nazis during World War II were providing sanctuary, despite the risk involved.  The people who hid and helped escaping slaves make their way to freedom were giving sanctuary.  The Fugitive Slave Acts made it illegal to aid slaves who’d escaped.  Slaves were the property of their “masters” and were to be returned to them. To aid them was to risk fines and jail time.  Yet people continued to feed them, house them, and assist those who were fleeing to a place where they would have more rights than they did as enslaved people .  Eventually the law changed, and the sanctuary-providers became heroes, the people who were on the right side of history.  Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

There was a period of time during the 1980s when people were coming from Central America seeking sanctuary. Their countries were being ripped apart by civil war.  Brutal governments were “disappearing” their own citizens, the ones who opposed or questioned them.  When several nuns were raped and murdered by soldiers in El Salvador, our country began to wake up to find that we were complicit in the crimes of these repressive regimes. Once again, those providing sanctuary were on the right side of history. Some of these people found sanctuary in churches.  Some even landed in the Twin Cities.

Right now there are people coming here from several violence-ridden Central American countries, seeking safety, sanctuary.  Many of them are children.  (The immigrant crisis having to do with Syrian refugees is another facet of this issue, though they are vetted and not told where they are going until they get on the plane.) Parts of our government don’t want them here, and the rumblings are that anyone providing sanctuary to such people will be on the wrong side of the law and may pay a price.

I have been told I should give the new President a chance.  With all due respect, this is not about the President.  It’s about us. Whoever he or she is, the question remains, what should the people of Christ do?  Where should the church be on this question?  If indeed these sisters and brothers need a safe place, can we turn them away and still claim to be the people of Christ, whatever the law or government says?  Do we not answer to a higher authority?  We have a cross on our building.  Is that simply decoration or does it mean something?  Do we understand and are we also willing to pay the price that comes with being Jesus’ sisters and brothers – to all our sisters and brothers, regardless?