The New Sanctuary Movement

TIME reports on the new sanctuary movement.

We are taught
to follow
and risk
–and risk
the status
–Bishop Beverly Shamana

Hospitality and welcoming the stranger are central to the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. TIME reports on faith groups offering sanctuary and experiencing renewed energy despite controversy about immigration in the U.S. Mainline communions have a long history of working with immigrants and providing sanctuary, and it has always been controversial to detractors.

But TIME reporter, David Van Biema, says “solid biblical underpinnings make [the] issue particularly promising for the resurgent religious left, and it may peel conservative Protestant Hispanics from the right.” He is referring to the scriptural admonition in Leviticus 19: 33: “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

A key historical example of sanctuary important to both Christians and Muslims is the story of the Ethiopian Negus in Aksum harboring Muslims at the time of Mohammed. The historical account says Mohammed wrote to Negus, the “king of kings” in Ethiopia (known in history and parts of the bible as Abyssinia), asking for sanctuary for these refugees from Mecca and Negus, after questioning them, agreed. The story is valued by both Islam and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Perhaps it was a controversial act, but it is remembered today as an example of interfaith respect and hospitality. In controversy about illegal immigration today in the U.S. it’s inevitable that the description of the sanctuary movement is framed in polarizring language, but it’s also indisputable that the biblical mandate is clear, and the historical experience puts the sanctuary movement on solid biblical and traditional grounds.

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