On Resolution 17-05: Being a Sanctuary Diocese
After lengthy debate, the convention voted to adopt Resolution 17-05. That resolution, among other things, declared that the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is a Sanctuary Diocese, and that congregations in the diocese consider becoming sanctuary congregations.
Questions were raised during the debate, and questions have been asked by clergy members and laity as to the meaning of the term, sanctuary, as it is used in the resolution – and what it should be understood to mean by persons living in this diocese, including, but not limited to clergy members and laity.
The word, sanctuary, has many definitions, which, from Webster’s and other sources include: “a place of refuge or safety, a harbor, an oasis, a sacred place, a place of protection, a place where one can be free from the stress of daily life.” The term, sanctuary, has deep roots in Christian history and tradition; indeed, our place of worship is deemed a sanctuary.
The term has also taken on a political meaning, particularly over the past ten months, as various state and municipal entities, as well as colleges and universities have declared themselves sanctuaries. These institutions have variously defined the term for their own purposes, some, but not all, including statements of non-cooperation with certain federal law enforcement agencies charged with controlling and enforcing our immigration laws and directives. None, however, advocate violation of law.
In the context of Resolution 17-05, a fairly narrow definition was urged by its proponents. This communique is intended to recite that narrow definition and make clear the position of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego as to the intended meaning and use of the term, “Sanctuary Diocese” or “Sanctuary Congregation.” It should be understood to mean that the Episcopal Church in San Diego holds itself out to be a place where persons residing or working in this diocese or their families, regardless of legal status, can find comfort, assistance and loving support as they negotiate the difficulties of being an alien in a foreign land.
Such comfort, assistance and support could take many forms, including spiritual guidance, prayer, financial and/or legal assistance, food or temporary shelter. It could also include an educational component, both for the benefit of the immigrants and the larger community as well.
It should be clear that the providing of sanctuary as that term is used here, does not include concealing, harboring or shielding from detection any person being sought for legal detention or arrest by any law enforcement agency. It does not include any actions in violation of the law.
Any church that chooses to provide aid or assistance to anyone does so for humanitarian reasons, and not in any way to flout the law. However, there is no requirement that a church providing aid or assistance ask or seek to determine their legal status. Further there is no requirement to notify anyone (including law enforcement) that such aid is being provided. If law enforcement agencies inquire about a church’s activities in this regard, the church representatives should answer honestly. If asked about knowledge of the whereabouts of some particular person who is being provided food or shelter or otherwise using church property, again, honest answers should be given. However, if such a person is using a private space (as opposed to a public space) on church property, law enforcement authorities cannot lawfully enter such private spaces without a warrant signed by a judge.
In addition, and separately, the resolution asserts our commitment to speak against efforts by the executive or legislative branches of government to move forward with elimination of all protections afforded to beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and any other actions aimed as mass deportations of undocumented people, without regard to their length of residence, lack of criminal history, work or family situations. This portion of the resolution calls upon people of faith to raise their voices on these humanitarian issues.
Finally, the resolution promises that the diocese will consult with and coordinate with other pertinent groups and coalitions on these issues and provide further education and other resources to carry out the intent of this resolution.
The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego urges all clergy members and congregants and other interested persons to display Christian compassion by committing themselves to reach out to people in need.
Read the full text of Resolution 17-05