Evangelical Lutheran Church In America Becomes First 'Sanctuary Church Body' To Shelter Migrants

Evangelical Lutheran Church In America Becomes First 'Sanctuary Church Body' To Shelter Migrants

Representing almost 3.5 million Christians, the ELCA is now "committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country."

As of Wednesday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, representing almost  3.5 million Christians, became the country's first "sanctuary church body," according to the church's officials. After conducting a church-wide assembly presided by Rev. Elizabeth Eaton in Milwaukee, more than 700 members attending the meet decided to declare the ELCA as a sanctuary church that will be "committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country."

They also marched to ICE's Milwaukee office and held a prayer vigil. The group marched towards the building carrying signs which read: "We put the protest back in Protestant" and chanted, "This is what the love of God looks like."



According to a report by CNN, the ELCA has pledged to respond to deportations, raids, and "criminalization" of immigrants in addition to supporting the refugees. They will also be working towards fighting individual cases of deportation and attempting at ending mass detentions while raising the suppressed voice of immigrants.

Taking "prophetic action" by extending "radical hospitality" to these immigrant communities was also among several of their promises. This measure is called a "memorial" and a few ELCA churches, including Metro New York Synod, have already carried out such actions in the past. Now, a church committee plans on compiling a study on the meaning of a "sanctuary church body," the reports of which have been said to be published in a 2022 report. 



The aforementioned church body will be formulating many guidelines and resources for the denominations over 9,000 congregations "to help them explore and develop sanctuary ministries," as per the officials of the church.

Advocating the same, Christopher Vergara who works with the ELCA's Metro New York Synod on immigration issues said (as per CNN), "Christians have offered sanctuary for 2,000 years, continuing an ancient biblical practice in which cities and houses of worship provided refuge and asylum for people fleeing injustice."

Drawing parallels between Wednesday's decision and the distinctively larger evangelical Christian movement Vergara explained how this "Sanctuary Movement" began when churches started assisting refugees Central America back in the 1980s. "We continue to do God’s work with our hands in language the world understands," she added.



"Today, the New Sanctuary Movement is a revived effort to protect undocumented migrants from needless jailing procedures and deportation, and to address the dire situation within the Department of Health and Human Services that has resulted in the stripping of services to refugees and unaccompanied children," stated CNN. 

Measures that were taken by the religious body does not break any US law, revealed the church. According to the National Sanctuary Movement, in recent years more than 800 faith institutions have stepped forward to give sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. 



However, officials carrying the required warrant can arrest illegal immigrants irrespective of them being in a place of worship. But the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE also mentioned how they try and avoid arrests at these "sensitive locations." Such measures come as a response to Trump's harsh administration's immigration policies.

Evelyn Soto Straw, who works with the ELCA's domestic mission programs told Religious News Service, "It just keeps getting worse and worse in terms of unaccompanied children, separated families, detention centers that are just horrific, and so what we wanted to say as a church body as the Lutheran church, we wanted to now act with our feet and take action."



On the same day, the US immigration officials detained around 680 undocumented immigrants that were described as a record-setting operation by a federal prosecutor. Mike Hurst, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi reportedly informed that illegal immigrants were arrested from seven sites in six cities in Mississippi. According to him, these raids are "believed to be the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation's history."

Matt Albence, the  Acting Director at ICE said, "These are not new laws, nor is the enforcement of them new." Further justifying their actions he said, "The arrests today were the result of a year-long criminal investigation. And the arrests and warrants that were executed today are just another step in that investigation."


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