Many countries are at war today. Nations are bombed and communities are destroyed – communities that house thousands to millions of innocent people who suddenly lost homes and a reason to live because everything they knew and believed in disappeared in a snap. As the very government that vowed to protect them shatters against more powerful foreign military and troops, refugees have nowhere to go.
There are various community support groups and non-profit organizations that extend help to these people but what they need the most is not just food but shelter – shelter away from the war and chaos and a chance to rebuild their lives. States are torn over this matter. Some are open to receiving refugees while there are others that oppose, fearing for the safety and security of their own citizens. While many are left undecided, the church steps up and opens its door to scared and scarred refugees who lost everything they have in life through the sanctuary movement.
Now, in the wake of the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, religious leaders across the West are resurrecting the almost 40-year-old movement, inspired by their predecessors’ desire to act on the social justice values taught by their faith. More than 800 congregations across denominations have signed a sanctuary pledge promising to provide a safe haven for those threatened with deportation.
Back in the ’80s, Corbett and Fife were responding to what they saw as systematic discrimination against Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees, in violation of the 1980 Refugee Act. Many had escaped violence sponsored in part by the Reagan administration’s military support for right-wing governments in the region. But instead of being granted protection, Salvadorans and Guatemalans were often sent to detention centers and pressured to “voluntarily return” to their countries of origin. According to federal data, the U.S. government denied 97 percent of Salvadoran political asylum applications and 99 percent of Guatemalan applications between 1980 and 1990.
Corbett grew up on a sheep ranch in Casper, Wyoming, and had a graduate degree in philosophy from Harvard. He was equal parts environmentalist and humanitarian, and the refugee crisis offended his profound sense that all life — human beings, as well as nature — was interconnected. His core motivation, says Fife, was finding the answer to a single question: “How do you protect the basic rights of the land and of people?”
And while churches stand for different religions, desperate times like war bring them together and unite them for a single cause – to help the victims of war and offer refuge when necessary even if it means setting aside their religious differences.
A year and a half ago, three churches put aside theological differences and came together to sponsor the resettlement of three Syrian refugee families to this town of 8,500.
“We have three different theological outlooks on things, but they’ve been pushed to the background,” said Ron Marlin, a lay leader for Dauphin First United Church, a liberal mainline Protestant congregation.
“The focus was very much on helping our neighbors in need,” agreed Cordell Lind, whose wife, the Rev. Lorayln Lind, serves as pastor for the conservative evangelical First Baptist Church of Dauphin.
In the United States, President Trump’s effort to bar refugees from certain Muslim-majority nations, including Syria, has dominated headlines for weeks.
But here in Canada, the government has welcomed more than 40,000 people fleeing Syria’s civil war since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s October 2015 election.
Even in America that is now currently led by Donald Trump, churches are urged to reach out to refugees and offer help but most pleas go on deaf ears.
Middle East expert Brigitte Gabriel thinks the Christian church needs to step up and help beleaguered Christian refugees from the Middle East find asylum in the United States.
One of the disturbing aspects of President Trump’s revised travel ban is the removal of a clause contained in his original executive order that allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups. In Muslim-dominated countries, that means Christianity.
U.S. churches will probably just remain as an onlooker as churches all over the world open their doors to needy refugees who are desperate for help. But with the travel ban, any church who wants to help will also likely have a hard time doing so as President Trump made sure that no unwanted (and possibly dangerous) foreigner can step foot in his beloved America.
“Unfortunately right now churches in America are not focusing on going out and basically raising the money to bring Christians into the churches and having them adopted by families,” she laments. “Some very small churches are doing that, but that’s literally one percent if even [that] of the total refugee population that Christian churches are bringing to America.”
What a pity it is for all the refugees who’ve got their whole lives turned upside down just because more powerful nations in the world like the U.S. decides that country’s like Syria need their help and bomb the entire nation without second thoughts or consideration over the lives of the people. And now those innocent civilians are left without a home they won’t even open up their borders and provide shelter to these people who suddenly found themselves alienated by everybody.
Community groups and churches can only help a few but many are still in need and only when bigger nations offer help by providing asylum for the refugees and stop meddling with these countries in the first place can we expect to find some semblance of peace and order in our society.