The following is an excerpt from zócalo originally published on January 30, 2017.
When It Comes to Sanctuary, Offering a Bed Is Only the Beginning
In late 2012, I got a call from a church member. “Seth, Harry’s picking his daughter up from school? Is Sanctuary over?” he asked me.
It wasn’t, and Harry—an undocumented Indonesian immigrant we were sheltering in our church—wasn’t supposed to be out and about. In conversations with the media and our neighbors we had claimed, over and over, that the men we were protecting stayed put inside the walls of the church. It didn’t look good, my parishioner reminded me, for Harry to be walking around our tiny borough of Highland Park, New Jersey, the kind of place where the townsfolk know one another and can spot an outsider on sight. I knew he was right, but I also knew that from Harry’s point of view, picking up his daughter must have outweighed safety that day. I’d rather have bad optics than kill Harry’s soul, I told the church member.
We had been experiencing many of these uncomfortable moments. For nearly two years—from the beginning of March in 2012, until mid-February in 2014—my congregation, the Reformed Church of Highland Park, offered sanctuary to nine Indonesians at risk of deportation. We offered it to keep families together and to keep the government from ruining lives and community, and because of our faith commitment to siding with the oppressed.