Sanctuary Church: CWA Reflection

I resonate with Martin Luther in moments such as this, for Luther was known to address concerns due to the demands of the people rather than from his own interests/passions. If my own interests/passions were leading the Church-Wide Assembly reflections, I would not begin with the “Sanctuary” decision…
But I will expand on that later. Let us not put the cart before the horse.

On Sunday (Aug. 11 – Sermon), I noted that that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and specifically the Church-Wide Assembly Voting Members in certain locations would have some explainin’ to do.

I was a voting member. I was also one asked to explain.
[I offer for those so inclined, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Talking Points.]

On Monday morning, I received an email that the ELCA “Sanctuary” decision disturbed a household and ‘how can the church feel that we are above the law?’.

Thus, I thought it might be best to simply share the relatively brief response I wrote, although I realize it does not begin to do justice to the complicated topic.

Please note: None of the proposed action is illegal or unlawful.

I also am including a word document with the original memorial, background, proposed response, and the final response of the Church Wide Assembly (2019). ELCA Sanctuary Decision

Good afternoon,
I was in attendance at the Church Wide Assembly as a voting member.

If you have not read the memorial, I encourage you to do so. I do not know if the whole has been released yet. 

The original [response] did not include the language to make the ELCA (as a denomination, not individual congregations) a ‘sanctuary’ denomination. 

There was an amendment, which was approved, to add language that the ELCA (again as a denomination, not individual congregations) declare itself a ‘sanctuary’ denomination. 

There was much conversation about the memorial and the language of sanctuary, particularly its influence on the three different expressions (Church Wide, Synods, and congregations). Here are a few notes:

  1. Sanctuary is not a legal term. By definition it is a place of refuge and safety. 
  2. Sanctuary in regards to the immigration situation differs from place to place. Some consider it providing shelter or room and board. Some consider it helping with legal assistance. Some consider it assisting with food, clothing, and other basic needs. Some consider it to be simply not informing immigration of ones status. 
  3. The Church Wide decision to be declared a “sanctuary” body does not and cannot declare each Synod or congregation to be a “sanctuary” Synod/congregation.
  4. Therefore, the decision to be or not to be is determined by the congregation itself.
  5. Therefore, if a congregation declares itself a “sanctuary”, the means of “sanctuary” provided will be determined by its leadership.

Since there is neither a requirement nor complying of Synods and/or congregations to act, the question might be “why”… 

There are many within the ELCA who are concerned about the current immigration policies and their current implementation. 

There are many within the ELCA who are seeking and working towards immigration reform, which does not call for “open borders”.

There are many within the ELCA who understand the current immigration situation to be a social justice issue and are concerned about the well-being and dignity of migrants and refugees. 

Therefore, it was a bold statement of the ELCA to say we are concerned about the well-being and dignity of all people, including migrants and refugees. 

It is a bold statement that the ELCA does not have the power to implement in each congregation or Synod, but it empowers congregations and Synods to discern it for themselves. 

If you wish to have further conversation regarding this complex issue and memorial, I am always available to do so. 

Thank you and Blessings, 

Now, it is time for the ‘cart’.

I am grateful for the Presiding Bishop, Synodical Bishops, clergy, and others who quickly shared their reflections and ‘talking point’ resources, but as I stated above I would not have chosen the “Sanctuary” decision as my initial reflection.

Why not?
It is not due to a lack of relevance, urgency, or significance.
It is not due to a fear of the controversy.

In the most simplistic terms, the decision, in my opinion, was obvious.

Simply, I am a proud daughter of Arizona, who still holds my heart captive.

  • As such, I have borne witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly of our immigration system and call for significant and just reform.
  • As such, I have first-hand knowledge of the situation.
  • As such, I am concerned for land controlled by cartels and closed to Americans.

Simply, I am a “bleeding heart” pastor.

  • I believe that all people are created by God.
  • I believe that all people are worthy and deserving of dignity.
  • I believe that we are responsible for the compassionate care of all people, creatures, and creation (well, except maybe 8-legged freaks).
  •  Thus, I have concerns about the well-being and dignity of migrants/refugees.
  • Thus, I am one of “many” in the ELCA (as stated above).

While serving in Kelso (Washington), we provided for legal assistance and were researching “sanctuary” options for a beloved member of our congregation.
I was (and still am) proud to have served as their pastor during that experience. 

I am a honored and proud 2019 Church Wide Assembly voting member.
We made some bold decisions.
We committed and re-committed to bold statements and relationships.
We, trusting the Holy Spirit to move us, made me proud to be ELCA.

As I stated in my response, I am available for respectful dialogue. 



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