RESOLVED: that Synod encourages congregations and individuals, and affirms those who are already active in their support, to welcome new arrivals from refugee backgrounds to their communities and that they work to understand their specific needs and actively support them in their resettlement.
(Resolution 150210 LCA General Convention October 2015)
Are you a church wanting to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers?
Many of us have seen the media reports this week about some Anglican churches and others offering their buildings as refugee sanctuaries. In British tradition the idea of escaping persecution by claiming sanctuary in a church goes back to 600AD and remained in legal use for about 1000 years. Memories of this practice still cling to the British consciousness, even claiming roots in the Old Testament.
To my knowledge the rule of sanctuary has never been tested in Australia, but it is evidently not forgotten. The Anglican, Uniting, and Baptist churches which have offered sanctuary this week are drawing on this moral, cultural, and legal legacy in a further attempt to protect Australia’s most vulnerable refugees.
Some people have written to me asking when we Lutherans might join in, and I have prepared this eNews to offer the following commentary and advice.
Offering sanctuary is a form of non-violent civil disobedience. It has been triggered as a response to repeated government policies and actions that have failed to welcome the stranger and have put innocent lives at risk. Many churches have been lobbying successive Australian governments on this issue for many years. Ultimately these Christians have felt that, since asking politely has seen little result, they need to do more.
Offering sanctuary is a matter of conscience. Churches have the right to object or resist if they understand that the government is subverting its God-ordained functions. An individual Christian also retains that right if he or she believes the government is demanding that its citizens transgress God’s commandments. These are important moral and ethical considerations for each of us.
Christians have faced such struggles at many times and in many places. The question before us now is whether such conditions may apply on this issue, and whether the offer of sanctuary is an effective response.
Some Lutheran congregations may choose to participate in this campaign. Others will not. To some it will be a burning issue, and to others it will not be something they would even consider.
As you think about this, remember that the LCA is, by and large, itself a migrant church. Many of us are here because we were welcomed and taken in by the country in which we or our forebears took refuge. We live in relative safety and calm while large numbers of people have nowhere left to go. Only the really desperate come as far as Australia in search of refuge. Their experiences when they arrive are often not kind and they are kept in a kind of limbo, often offshore in places funded by Australian taxes but outside the reach of Australian law.
If you want to know more about your options, and any action you or your congregation might undertake, I have reproduced below a release from the Churches Refugee Taskforce. The LCA has membership in this taskforce and is an active contributor. If you want to view this release online you can find it at http://www.acrt.com.au/
Misha Coleman, executive officer for the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, has invited any churches wanting more information or wishing to join the sanctuary movement to contact her at email@example.com
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
16 February 2015