Two Christian denominations are planning to wade into politics during regional meetings this week.
The Central States Synod Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will consider a resolution that calls for study about becoming a sanctuary synod.
The Great Plains United Methodist Church plans to vote on resolutions calling for churches to welcome immigrants and refugees.
Both resolutions would involve the churches taking their concerns to political leaders and policy makers.
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The Lutheran resolution calls for a task force to explore becoming a sanctuary synod, which traditionally supports congregations who are protecting refugees and undocumented immigrants from arrest and deportation.
The Rev. Karen Scherer, pastor of Unity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bel-Nor, Mo., said evaluating whether to become a sanctuary synod – or whether to become one without using the “sanctuary” term – would take about a year.
The denomination has other sanctuary synods, including in Oregon. There, the synod found out that just providing a safe place to keep refugees and immigrants from arrest and deportation was unhelpful.
“Sanctuary is kind of a politically loaded term, and we did not want this to be a divisive kind of thing but one that really lifts up ... being advocates for the refugees and immigrants,” Scherer said.
What seems to work instead is educating people about their rights, providing resources such as lawyers or being present during an arrest to ensure rights are protected, Scherer said. That could mean a year of determining whether and how the denomination wants to be a sanctuary synod.
‘Real for our churches’
Although it does not mention President Donald Trump by name, the Lutheran resolution does refer to the current administration and Trump’s executive orders. Both resolutions are grounded in current discussions about refugees and immigration.
“Hateful and divisive rhetoric and actions by leaders in our government and others have ignited xenophobic and racist attitudes and actions among some of our fellow citizens including government employees,” reads part of the Methodist resolution.
The Rev. Kalaba Chali, mercy and justice ministries coordinator for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church, said Christians have a biblical call to welcome strangers.
“We have in our conference several pastors from other countries, some who came to the United States as refugees,” Chali said. “This is real for our churches. They’re already doing ministry, they’re helping these refugees become contributing members of our communities. It’s a biblical call, but it’s also a human act.”
Continuing the trend
The resolutions aren’t a change in direction for either denomination. The General Conference, the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church, adopted a resolution about welcoming immigrants in 2008 and reaffirmed it in 2016.
“To refuse to welcome migrants to this country – and to stand by in silence while families are separated, individual freedoms are ignored, and the migrant community in the United States is demonized by members of Congress and the media – is complicity to sin,” that resolution stated.
In 1998, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Church Council adopted a message on immigration.
“Our country’s history exhibits an ugly strain of exclusionary attitudes and policies toward newcomers who differ from the majority,” the message reads. “As we journey together through the time God has given us, may God give us the grace of a welcoming heart and an overflowing love for the new neighbors among us.”
The Synod Assembly runs Thursday through Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., while the Great Plains Conference meeting is Wednesday through Saturday in Grand Island, Neb.