Local Rector Favors Sanctuary Resolution Adopted by Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey
The Episcopal Church of the Diocese of New Jersey voted on March 4 to become a sanctuary diocese, extending refuge, healing, material and pastoral support to those targeted for deportation due to immigration status. At least one local religious leader approves.
The Rev. Frank Crumbaugh of Holy Innocents’ Church in Beach Haven said he supports the resolution, but it is probably a divisive question for many congregations.
“It’s emblematic of the larger issues, part of the public discourse we are having lately,” Crumbaugh said. “I think many people are still trying to figure out how they think about many things.”
“Refuge is an ancient premise, to permit someone to find a safe place from being apprehended for something,” he went on. “There is a lovely painting that illustrates the idea of sanctuary, of King Edward IV stopped at the doorway of an abbey after someone has run into the church and the abbot has blocked the king.”
Although there is no legality that would keep a law enforcement agent from apprehending a person in a church, “I will tell you that they are loathe to do it, unless it is a dangerous felon,” said Crumbaugh, who noted that he was a member of law enforcement in a previous part of his life.
The resolution, passed by a majority of clergy and lay persons from the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of New Jersey, took place on the last day of their 233rd annual convention in Princeton. It brought together church representatives from 146 congregations from the lower two-thirds of the state, stretching from Cape May to Elizabeth.The Newark Diocese encompasses the rest of the congregations in northern New Jersey.
“In obedience to the many biblical injunctions imploring us not to wrong or oppress the alien in our midst and Jesus’ own mandate to extend care for the stranger, and in faithfulness to the sacred promises of Holy Baptism, the 233rd Convention of the Diocese of New Jersey declares the Diocese of New Jersey to be a Sanctuary Diocese,” the resolution states.
“Be it resolved that the Episcopal Church recommend that its dioceses and congregations become places of sanctuary, serving as places of welcome, refuge, healing and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people and be it further resolved that the Episcopal Church encourage its members to connect with local and national sanctuary communities and institutions, immigrant rights groups and coalitions, and engage in educating, organizing, advocacy and direct action and other methods as deemed appropriate in each context, to ensure the safety and security of the undocumented community and to assist in equipping congregations, clergy and lay leaders to engage in such work appropriate to local contexts, capacity and discernment.”
In an earlier morning workshop, the Rev. Ted Foley from Christ Episcopal Church in Toms River said the church was not asking anyone to break the law. “This is not an act of civil disobedience. Even if your church goes to the extreme of sheltering someone it is still not breaking the law. Nothing in the Constitution requires police to ask about legal status or enforce ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
No congregation will be required to offer sanctuary, he added. “If it’s not the right thing for your church, then don’t do it. It’s not a political statement.
“As ambassadors for Christ we can offer support for those fearing deportation. Families are being torn apart. There is such fear that children are afraid to go to school. They are being bullied. Other children tell them, ‘We are going to call ICE on you.’
“They are refusing to go to school because they are afraid when they come back their parents may be gone. Parents are afraid to go to work because if they are caught, their children will be left behind. There is a lot of sickness, panic and worry, a lot of anxiety. Because they are afraid to work, they have no money to post bond.”
The Rev. Juan Monge Santiago of Lakewood said, “It is hard to hear ‘send them all back’ from members of his community or on television.
“When you were baptized your parents made a promise to seek to serve Christians in all people, and they answered, ‘I will with God’s help.’ You made promises to strive for justice and peace. Who is my neighbor? Everyone. Eleven million human beings need your understanding – to be faithful to the promises you made.
“The people came for the same reason your ancestors did. They saw a new land of hope and hard work made this nation. Why not help others to do the same?”
Dan Somers, an immigration attorney, suggested congregations could gather information on citizenship, offer legal advocacy, peer support, affidavits of support, English language support and housing.
Angeline Pozo, co-chair of the Immigration Task Force, said other things churches could do: establish a bail fund, advocate for prosecurial discretion (allow prosecutors leeway in deportation cases) and advocate on behalf of students. They could hold workshops on keeping a low profile.
Church members could also visit the incarcerated since many have no friends or relatives, she suggested, or they could provide stationery or money for phone calls for those who do.
“Far more people need services than there are services available to them,” said Pozo.
— Pat Johnson