Anomalies From the Rooftop

Theology from Anomalies. One story a day from the world of Christianity that is just a little off-beat. Sometimes, in shouting the good news from the rooftop, Christians do some strange things.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Illegal Immigrant Seeks 'Sanctuary' in Chicago Church

Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who has been deported once and later convicted of using a false Social Security number, has sought "sanctuary" from immigration authorities in a storefront Methodist Church in Chicago. Effectively convicted of identity theft, there is really no good reason she should still be in the country. But she has become something of an activist for immigration reform, and says she will stay in the USA because her seven year-old son, a US citizen, wants to stay. Of course, it is not at all clear that her son's citizenship is going to improve his life much if he is stuck in a church.

Slate has a good summary of the current and historical understandings and legal underpinnings of sanctuary. Basically, it's abundantly clear that there is no provision in US law for the principal of 'sanctuary' in a church. But Joel Fetzer, professor of political science at Pepperdine University, summed up the reality well in a Chicago Tribune article: "Just because you are in a church doesn't mean you are less deportable in a legal sense, but in a political sense, it looks very bad to be hauling people out of churches as the camera rolls."

But there is a huge difference between this kind of sanctuary and the kind enshrined in Christian history. Sanctuary used to be a place one could go, regardless of what one had done wrong. In this case, as in the sanctuary movement of the 1980's, the church only provides sanctuary to those who find themselves crosswise with what the church leaders judge are unjust laws. It's not sanctuary at all, but political protest. Even the pastor of the church, Walter Coleman makes this clear, perhaps unwittingly,
"She represents the voice of the undocumented, and we think it's our obligation, our responsibility, to make a stage for that voice to be heard."

Apparently the church did pray over this, and I have no doubt that they see this as an important social justice issue. But their prayers didn't do much to help the congregation or Ms. Arellano understand the term sanctuary. Sanctuary is not about "making a stage for that voice to be heard." It's not a social justice technique.
Sanctuary has something to do with providing a place where the mercy of God is real and tangible. But by making a stage for politics, Adalberto United Methodist Church is obscuring the Gospel in a deluge of political debate.


Post a Comment

<< Home