Southeastern Synod ELCA

A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Churchwide Assembly Vote to Become a Sanctuary Churchbody

The Rev. Andrew Lewis - August 11, 2019

Dear friends in Christ,

In the middle of last week, the Churchwide Assembly voted to designate the ELCA a "sanctuary churchbody." Over the next several days, news organizations picked up the story; the coverage was mostly vague.

When I returned home from worship this afternoon, I learned that Fox News aired a short panel discussion on the Churchwide Assembly's decision. I assume that this piece will make the usual social media rounds over the coming days, and I write to you today in hopes of addressing any concerns that might be raised by the segment.

After repeated viewings of the panel, I can state definitively that Fox News misreported the facts both about the ELCA's position and about undocumented immigrants. Fox News did not have a representative from the ELCA on the panel and implied that ELCA congregations would simply ignore US law. This is not true. One of their guests also implied that undocumented migrants carry disease and pose a public health risk. This is also not true.

The ELCA's designation as a "sanctuary churchbody" means that our denomination will continue to support refugees as they are resettled in the US through our partnership with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, provide legal assistance to immigrants pursuing their legally-protected right to seek asylum, and ensuring that undocumented immigrants are aware of their rights under US law. Moreover, it means that the ELCA will continue to advocate for just and humane treatment of detained immigrants, such as calling for adequate housing at detainment centers and accompanying minors through immigration court as part of the ELCA's AMMPARO program. Congregations that have the resources to do so may provide food, shelter, and financial assistance to migrants in need. Finally, it also means that the ELCA will speak out against xenophobia, racism, and fear-mongering against all people.

You may notice that these are long-standing ELCA practices. As I have mentioned many times before, ours is an immigrant faith: transplanted from Europe into the US and Caribbean by wandering Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes. These immigrant communities maintained their customs in this new country and shaped the ELCA as it is today. After World War II, one in six Lutherans was either displaced or a refugee. And over the years, our faith has become more diverse, made up of Lutherans from Central and South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, and every corner of the map. On a typical Sunday, Lutherans in the ELCA worship in more than thirty different languages. Because we are the spiritual heirs to a wandering Aramean, roving Germans and Danes, and displaced Christians from across the globe, our denomination has long been committed to welcoming the stranger. We do so in the belief that what we do unto the least of these, our sisters and brothers, we do unto Christ himself.

The Churchwide Assembly's actions, then, re-commit us to this long tradition.

Grace and Peace,
Pr. Andrew+