By now many ELCA members have heard that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted last week to become “a sanctuary body.” For some people this announcement came as good, lifegiving news. For others it was much more troubling. It is important for us to understand what this declaration means and what it does not mean.
It DOES mean that the ELCA takes very seriously the situation of migrants and of undocumented people. The ELCA has a long history of ministry to the stranger, based on biblical precedent.
It DOES NOT mean than everyone has to respond in the same way. Some will choose to provide material aid to refugees relocating in this country. I know that when there was talk of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls being a backup location for unaccompanied minors in the case of a hurricane, I spoke with the Mayor about ways that the faith community could offer hospitality. Offering hospitality is what we do. Some will choose to limit their response to prayer—which should never be discounted. And some will work with LIRS or AMMPARO. Still others will take further steps.
It DOES mean that the ELCA is renewing our commitment to advocate or reform in our nation’s broken immigration system, and for humane treatment of immigrants and refugees.
It DOES NOT mean that the ELCA is condoning or advocating illegal conduct on behalf of its congregations or members.
It DOES mean that the ELCA is encouraging its members to exercise compassion, generosity, hospitality to all, and to speak up for “the least of these.”
It DOES NOT mean that the ELCA is mandating that its congregations engage in any practice.
(The ELCA Churchwide Assembly cannot mandate the actions of ELCA congregations.)
Directly below this you can find a document listing what it means to be a sanctuary denomination. It is important to know what we as the ELCA think we did, not what commentators who were not there claim we did.
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly did many things in our 5 ½ days together. I encourage you to go to www.elca.org to learn more. And I will be writing about other topics in next week’s e-news.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA