Statement on Sanctuary

Sanctuary is one of the most ancient traditions that we have as a people of faith.

History of Sanctuary:

Sanctuary is one of the most ancient traditions that we have as a people of faith.  The ancient Hebrew people had allowed temples and even whole cities to declare themselves places of refuge for persons accused of a crime they may not have committed, a practice that allowed those wrongfully accused to escape swift and harsh retribution until the matter could be resolved.  In the late Roman Empire fugitives could find refuge in the precincts of Christian churches.  Later, during the medieval period, churches in England were recognized sanctuaries, offering a safe haven for a temporary period to accused wrongdoers.  

In the United States, the first practical provision of anything like sanctuary occurred in the years before the Civil War.  The Underground Railroad came into being to help slaves flee the South and find safety in many congregations throughout the country.  In the 1980‘s when refugees from the civil wars in Central America began to flee to the United States, the US government did not recognize them as political refugees. Many were deported and sent back to face death squads.  The modern Sanctuary movement was born to move those refugees through the United States to safe houses and safe congregations and in its peak had over 500 congregations providing this underground railroad.  Sanctuary is about providing safe space to those who are victims of unjust laws.

Biblical Mandate:

Leviticus 19:33-34 where God calls people of faith to remember that they were once strangers in a strange land and they must welcome the stranger as an expression of covenant faithfulness.

Isaiah 1:17 where we are told we must “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow’.

Isaiah 58:6-9 where we are told again to care for the oppressed.

Luke  10:27 where Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Current Day Sanctuary Movement:

Drawing on this tradition, communities of faith have once again seen the need to declare Sanctuary for immigrants as the rise of deportations continues to separate families.  As workplace and neighborhood raids increase, congregations are once again organizing and opening their doors to provide refuge to those facing deportation.  It is important to support Central American and Haitian asylum seekers in our communities and there is a great need for people of faith to stand up and protect our United States asylum laws that ensure asylum seekers get their cases heard with legal assistance and enough time to prepare for their cases.

Response by Riviera Presbyterian Church: 

As a community of faith, we feel called to protect undocumented immigrant families from an immigration system that is separating families and deporting families who are woven into the fabric of our community and economic system.

We are committed to work with immigrant leaders in our community in their struggle for civil and human rights.

We are committed to work for fair and just immigration policies and practices as faithful members of this community.

We pledge to help houses of worship who are physically providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrant families and individuals.  We will help provide food, friendship, and activities for families in the sanctuary.

We pledge to participate in protection networks in our community who minister to the immigrants in escorting people to court.  We will accompany people when needed and be a witness.

We pledge to join in immigration conversations.  We will call and write letters to legislators and attend vigils when needed and when possible.  We will work to change immigration policies in order that civil law and our faith are in sync.

We pledge that when possible, we will serve as a rapid response team providing witness in raids to what is happening.

And, we promise to pray for the stranger and the immigrant in our midst.
Kathy Stults, Clerk of Session

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