Churchwide Assembly Declares the ELCA a Sanctuary Church
The 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted August 7th to approve a memorial that affirms the denomination's long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) a sanctuary church body. The ELCA is the first North American denomination to declare itself a sanctuary church body.
As a sanctuary church, the ELCA publicly declares that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith. This declaration does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in illegal activity.
In defining what this means for its congregations, the ELCA states that a sanctuary church will look different in the different contexts across the ELCA. The church cannot mandate or direct ELCA congregations and ministries to respond in certain ways.
The 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed the strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO). Through the strategy, the ELCA invites its churches to become "welcoming congregations," which means to commit to spiritually and physically accompanying migrants in their communities, pray for migrant children and families, and advocate for a just and humane immigration system. More than 100 congregations and five synods across the ELCA identify as sanctuary.
In baptism, we are brought into a covenantal relationship with Jesus Christ that commits us to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Following the example of Martin Luther, we believe that advocacy is a crucial expression of baptismal identity. As a church, we have advocated for stopping the detention of children and families for decades. We have spoken out against family separation, sought a pathway to citizenship for community members who have lived in the U.S. for many years, and have taken steps to address the root causes of migration in a way that honors the humanity in people who must flee.
Being a sanctuary denomination means that we, as church together, want to be public and vocal about this work. It will look different for everyone, but welcoming people is not a political issue for the ELCA – it is a matter of faith.