This past weekend official representatives of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to make their church the first “Sanctuary Synod” in the nation. This action encourages each of the 115 ELCA congregations and ministries throughout the state to “become Sanctuary churches ready to protect refugees and undocumented sisters and brothers from arrest and deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.”
“The Lutheran Church has been active in refugee resettlement nationally for over 75 years through the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.” said Oregon Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke. “Just this week we are welcoming the first Syrian refugees to our state through a partnership between Lutheran Community Services Northwest and a local congregation, St. Luke Lutheran, in Portland.”
After World War II one in six Lutherans in the world were refugees or displaced persons. At that time Lutherans and the Lutheran Church in this country resettled 57,000 refugees in the United States. After the fall of Saigon in 1975 U.S. Lutheran congregations sponsored over 50,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
“To designate ourselves as a Sanctuary Synod means our moral compass is straight and true.” stated Bishop Brauer-Rieke. “It means we are thankful for the welcome this country has given us as European immigrants and refugees and that we honor the highest values of our nation as a place of safety for the poor, the tired and all who yearn to breathe free. Most of our work around Refugee resettlement is done in harmony with government agencies and social services. The call to sanctuary recognizes that sometimes we have to ask more difficult questions.”
Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland was in the news September and December of 2014 as they offered physical sanctuary to Francisco Aguirre and family being threatened with deportation to El Salvador after 20 years in the U.S. as an undocumented worker. Augustana Lutheran Pastor Mark Knutson says, “As a congregation we just want to know what's going on, and that it meets the values of the community: the common values of ending wars, striving for equity, serving the hungry and the vulnerable, lifting up children and the elderly."
“Offering sanctuary to the Aguirre family had the single goal of giving our community and legal system time and space to consider its actions.” said Bishop Brauer-Rieke. “Given this time an injustice that might have occurred was, thankfully, avoided. I commend Augustana Lutheran for their compassion and care.”
“Not every Lutheran congregation in Oregon is likely to offer physical sanctuary the way Augustana has because of our action this past weekend.” Bishop Brauer-Rieke went on to say. “We recognize all together that issues of immigration and documentation are extremely complicated and complex. Nonetheless we all know people come first. Children come first. Safety and well-being comes first. Each of us in our own way is offering food, assistance, welcome and hope to those in need as we are able.”
This coming August the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America meets in national assembly in New Orleans. At that time the Oregon Synod will be petitioning their church to become the first “Sanctuary Denomination” in the U.S.