Trust me, I don't want to start this column by quoting Martin Luther because then you will surely stop reading.
"What does this mean?" was one of Luther's key questions. And it applies more than ever to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's recent decision to become a “sanctuary church" for migrants, including those who entered the United States illegally.
So--what does this mean?
The honest answer is that even before that decision has been parsed and defined, controversy has arisen.
There was the damnable/laughable panel on Fox News with not a single Lutheran and gross mis-statements abounded. I won't dignify it with a critique; but Foxholers will--sadly--swallow it hook, line and bitter sinker.
And within the ELCA there was the expected breast-beating: Was this just a guilt-alleviating gesture for white people to feel better without any real obligations on their part? Was this the national church "posturing without having done the real work of anti-racism and dismantling of white privilege?'
Still, the word is out: Lutherans now claim to be a sanctuary body.
Now comes fear.
A dear friend said to me, "We-ell, I'm really not okay with this if it means breaking the law." Oh, we Lutherans are mostly wimps about that, I didn't say.
Nor did I say a word about slavery being legal in this country at one time, Jews not being permitted to own businesses in another country quite a bit more recently and women across the globe currently legally subjected to laws that---oh, right, I have a word limit for this column so I don't have enough space to get into that.
Someone else asked me, "Does this mean our church needs to provide shower facilities and cots and all that?" because she remembered--nervously--the sanctuary movement in the 1980's during which over 500 congregations from many denominations housed, fed and provided legal counsel to people fleeing civil conflict in Central America.
Then I also figured I ought to tell my congregation about the churchwide assembly's decision. I don't mince words in sermons. I mean--I have an obligation not to.
But I know we are all of us racist/xenophobic/selfish/fearful to one degree or another. So I was expecting blow-back last Sunday.
I didn't get any. I love these imperfect people I imperfectly serve.
Yet--I don't know what's in everybody's innermost hearts. But I know my parishioners cherish the commitment they have made to the full inclusion of all people here regarding LGBTQA issues. (Yep, bring your partner of whatever orientation, wear a dress if you normally feel you can't elsewhere; we also welcome doubters because, without a doubt, who isn't?)
And because of that I know that in our own small way, we will not swing toward Fox or navel-gaze on the shortcomings of the ELCA's stance. We are a small group of practical people.
We will somehow figure out what it means for us to be a sanctuary body locally. And because we are linked up with churches throughout the area either officially or because their pastors and I are colleagues, we will parse this new development practically.
Because we all--whether we are part of a faith community or not--have Emma Lazarus' poignant words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty to teach us. We have Emma Lazarus--a Jew born in the United States before the Civil War and whose family ancestry pre-dates the Revolution--to chart our course in these awful headwinds that baffle us:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
If we can't heed these words, then what kind of patriots are we?