Despite what some critics are saying, the decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to become a sanctuary denomination does not incite law-breaking.
The action clearly embraces the philosophy of Christianity. Jesus didn’t ask anyone for papers before offering them comfort.
The assembly’s vote made the ELCA the first sanctuary denomination in the U.S. That large-scale decision affects 3.3 million members with Minnesota home to the largest ELCA community in the U.S. at about 670,000 members.
How each congregation wants to offer support is an independent decision. Actions may range from providing living spaces for migrants and supporting them in immigration courts to providing language tutoring, food and household supplies. Importantly, the ELCA assembly also voted to provide resources and staff to help congregations navigate the declaration.
The ELCA doesn’t in any way encourage lawlessness as part of its sanctuary efforts. In fact, it says: “Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal activity.” The denomination’s sanctuary description also says: “Being a sanctuary denomination is about loving our neighbors.”
Offering help to those in need is what this action is all about and what Christianity is meant to do. ELCA members, many of whom live here, should be proud of their denomination’s decision to stand up for people who have been under attack and obviously need help. The ELCA is already involved in an initiative to partner with agencies in Central America to address the conditions pushing people to the U.S.
Coming to the aid of refugees is a long-held practice of the ELCA. Lutherans started the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies in the U.S. As a church, ELCA has advocated for stopping the detention of children and families for decades.
The ELCA is acting upon its tradition of helping people as a matter of faith not because it is a current political issue in which drawing lines in the sand has polarized our nation.
What would Jesus do? Based on past action, he would back the ELCA’s action.