Friday, January 25, 2008

Is There Sanctuary in Church?

Throughout history the church has stood as place of safety and sanctuary. Those oppressed by the powerful of society have been able to turn to the church for help. In response, the church has been at the forefront of helping people who are on the margins of society. Homeless shelters, job training, orphanages and hospitals are all examples of the Christian church responding to the needs of those seeking sanctuary.

It was Jesus who encouraged those who followed him to feed the hungry, provide drinks to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit prisoners (see Matthew 25.31-46). Throughout the centuries those who follow Jesus, and attempt to live out his teachings have sought to do those things. We are trying to live out the Great Commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Recently there have been three developments that jeopardize, or at the very least, call into question the ancient tradition of sanctuary. Although these developments are unrelated, they both could have severe implications for the church and those who call themselves Christ-followers.
  • Illegal immigration is an issue that is too big for me to deal with in this context. Whether or not it is appropriate for people to come into the USA without the proper permissions or documentation is beyond the scope of this blog. (Nevertheless, people should not break the law to get into the USA.) However, once people are in this country, no matter their situation or circumstance, it is incumbent upon the church to assist them. The church should be providing English language skills, job training, legal advice and citizenship assistance to these immigrants. However, too often we find that the church is leading the charge to marginalize these men and women who are already among the poorest in our country.
  • Church violence has escalated to new levels. Whether it is because of domestic issues in families, communities or within the church body, many people have chosen the church as the place to take out their anger and frustration. Recent attacks in Colorado are only the latest in a series of events that leads many to question whether or not they are safe at church.
  • Dishonest ministers and ministries are causing problems for many people. Whether it is the extravagant lifestyle of famous (or infamous) preachers, or a leader that cannot be trusted with the temptation of sexually abusing church members, there are men and women in every community who do not feel safe in church.

We have big problems in the church. They cannot be solved quickly, and in many cases we seem reluctant to solve them at all. But we must. If we are ever to fulfill the command of Jesus, if we are ever to provide sanctuary for those who need it, we must begin now to do God's work and to clean up our mess.

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