One of the hymns in the evangelical tradition states our desires well with these pleading words: “Receive us again …”
Our society is experiencing a a revival of a concept called Sanctuary. Over the centuries, the church in an effort to protect individuals and families, proclaimed the availability of Sanctuary, a practice that is alive, sprouting up anew, and being rediscovered in the United States.
Sojourner Magazine (Sept-Oct 2007) gives an interesting and consciousness-raising of this idea for helping people. It’s viewed by dozens of religious and political leaders as an expression of and way of implementing the teachings of Jesus toward the deprived and the disadvantaged.
The New Sanctuary Movement offers shelter, hope and security to immigrants whatever their status, but especially to those identified as illegals. This gracious offer of kindness, hope and protection, though, is precipitating turmoil and pain as well. In this movement, immigrants, even illegal ones, are seen as the children of God. In all criticism of these immigrants, I’ve yet to see this theme, yet in our attitudes and opinions on this subject we are called upon by our faith to recognize them [illegals] as children of God.
The Catholic Church and other major denominations are boldly proclaiming through action as well as pronouncement that even undocumented immigrants presently living in the United States are children of God. This prophetic voice is pricking our consciousness.
One such prophet of inclusiveness is Cardinal Roger Mahoney, as exemplified here:
“In December, 2005, a bill passed the House of representatives that would have turned all 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in to felons and made it a felony to help or serve them. When Cardinal Roger Mahoney (right), in his 2006 Ash Wednesday sermon, called upon Catholics throughout the country to continue to serve immigrants regardless of their level of legal documentation — no matter what the personal or legal consequences — his words had a tremenous impact. Many say he awakened the moral imagination of the country; certainly his words changed the public and legislative debate by making immigrant families visible as children of God.”
— Sojourner Magazine, Sept/Oct 2007
Those who are being persecuted and prosecuted are contributors to the American way of life. The provide needed labor and more, as in the case of Juan, who fled Guatemala after his father suffered a political kidnapping. Juan’s mother received asylum in the United States but Juan encountered difficulty and ended with an order of deportation. Juan had built a small business here, paid taxes here, owned his own home, and never received a traffic ticket, volunteered in his community, adored his citizen children, and was active with his extended family in his church. yet he lived every day anticipating an eviction notice from his adopted country of asylum and deportation from it.
The New Sanctuary Movement surrounds Juan with attention by reminding the legal process of his contributions to our secutiry. Boldly, they proclaimed him a child of God.
We, too, can practice mental sanctuary by seeing these souls who appear to be and are speaking Spanish (and other languages) as children of God. When you encounter such a person in the shopping aisles, just silently repeat “He/She is a child of God.” We can have a compassionate attitude by avoiding stereotypes of those we call illegals. Juan’s story is just such an example of how these children of God, our brohters and sisters, contribute to the overall welfare of America.
In our community we have many immigrants, legal and illegal, and we have the privilege of treating them with respect, understanding, compassion and justice.
A major principle for guiding our response in treatment of any and all immigrants can be found in the words of Jesus: “Therefore, wherever you want men to do to you, do also unto them.” [Mt 7:12]
Let this situation and debate on the status of immigration challenge us to affirm and promote “Justice, equality and compassion in human relations.” [Unitarian Covenant]