Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
All Souls Church recently voted to offer physical refuge for undocumented immigrants who need sanctuary. All Souls belongs to a coalition of other churches and individuals throughout the city, including myself, who are committed to spend our time, money, and energy to love our immigrant neighbors.
On the day between Father’s Day and World Refugee Day, we held a press conference to announce the formation of the Sanctuary Coalition. The Coalition includes four local churches, an immigrant rights group, and several individuals. A variety of brief speeches were made at the event: about the biblical call to offer sanctuary; about the fear in the immigrant community; about the importance of keeping families together; from a 10-year-old US citizen whose parents are undocumented, and from a DACA college student, both of whom just want their families to stay together and have an opportunity to pursue their dreams and contribute to America.
The point of the press conference was not to brag about our good works. On the contrary, if an individual or an organization secretly offers sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant with a final order of deportation, they can be found guilty of harboring a fugitive. It is imperative for a church or coalition of churches to go public to the press, law enforcement, and the community when declaring sanctuary.
Churches have a long history of offering sanctuary. In Numbers 35 in the Bible, God commanded Moses to establish six cities of refuge throughout the land of Israel—cities to which people could flee for safety until they were given a fair trial. “These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites, aliens, and any other people living among them” (verse 15). The instruction for cities of refuge were repeated to Joshua in Joshua 20.
Historically, sanctuary has been offered in ancient Australia, Africa, Egypt, Rome, and Greece, as well as in medieval Europe and Britain. In the US, churches offered sanctuary to escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad, as well as to organizers during the Civil Rights Movement. US churches offered sanctuary in the 1980s to Central Americans who were fleeing US-backed wars in their own countries. In Denver recently, three individuals have taken sanctuary in churches. Each case has successfully allowed the immigrants sufficient time to get their legal cases in order, and they have all been granted stays of deportation. Sanctuary works.
Why am I a participant in and supporter of our local sanctuary coalition? Because of God’s repeated invitations and commands throughout the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—to love my neighbor. In action. God commands over and over again to welcome the stranger, to love the foreigner, and to not oppress the alien living in your land, but rather to treat them as the native born. We’re reminded to show hospitality, which in the Greek—philoxenia—literally means love for foreigners. We’re told to love both our neighbors and our enemies, in very concrete ways. In God’s Word, love is never a sappy feeling; love is action.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. … Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (James 2)
Compassion is another word that’s never sappy in the Bible. Compassion means to suffer with. Compassion doesn’t mean merely refusing to pile on the oppression—though that’s also important. Compassionate people do not stand by and observe injustice. Compassion means to suffer with the oppressed, and to stand up for justice to be served. “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another'” (Zech 7:9). Consider the compassion that God shows to us: Jesus left his home in heaven to suffer with humanity, under Roman oppression, and ultimately to die for us. We are called to have the same kind of compassion that Jesus has on us.
In Isaiah 58 we learn that God has no patience for empty worship and religious celebrations. What God desires from God’s people is that we practice justice. (See also Micah 6:8.)
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God. …
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
To those who claim that these immigrants are here illegally and therefore we shouldn’t help them: it’s incredibly difficult for most people to come to the US legally, and for many people it is outright impossible. I remind you that immigration violations are civil, not criminal, in nature. I also give you this from James 2: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Finally, the nations will be judged on whether we give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, shelter to the stranger, clothes to the poor, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25). It is in caring for the least of these that we meet Christ.
Click below for the cover story in the Colorado Springs Independent: