ECLA is America's First 'Sanctuary Church Body'

Pledge to help immigrants

Close to 3.5 million Christians, represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), have voted to become America’s first “sanctuary church body.” The vote took place last Wednesday and pledges more than just giving shelter to undocumented immigrants.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will:

  • Answer to deportations, raids, as well as the criminalization of refugees and immigrants
  • Battle cases of deportation on an individual basis, lift up immigrants’ voices and push for the end of detentions on a massive level
  • Take action to extend hospitality to communities of immigrants as well as individual immigrants.

The ELCA calls the measure a memorial and has said some of the organizations and churches under the ELCA belt are already seeing these actions are carried out. A committee has been set up by the church to conduct a study on what a sanctuary church body means. They plan to report their findings in 2022.

There are more than 9,000 congregations managed by the ELCA. This has prompted the ELCA to come up with resources and guidelines in order for these congregations to explore and develop sanctuary ministries.

The ELCA name, while similar to the larger evangelical Christian movement, is a different organization. The larger of the two is usually more politically as well as theologically conservative.

Christopher Vergara, a worker in the ELCA’s Metro New York Synod, has said that for 2,000 years Christians have been offering sanctuary to people who flee injustice. This is the continuation of an ancient biblical practice.

Vergara has linked the decision to a movement which began with churches assisting refugees in the 1980s in Central America. The movement is called the “Sanctuary Movement.”

Vergara went on to say the New Sanctuary Movement is an effort born from that movement. The New Sanctuary Movement has a goal of protecting undocumented migrants from unnecessary jailing processes as well as deportation. The New Sanctuary Movement is also trying to address the situation with the Department of Health and Human Services. The situation has ended up with refugees and unaccompanied children being denied many necessary services.

The ELCA has clarified that none of their objectives break any laws of the United States. Time will reveal the results of this initiative. However, to say the movement looks promising would be an understatement.

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