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Lutherans Declare Themselves a ‘Sanctuary Denomination’

‘Sanctuary is a broad term that is applied to a variety of practices, most of which are legal…’

Lutheran activists march in solidarity with illegal immigrants. / IMAGE: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America via Youtube

(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Federal immigration authorities have long struggled with policies that prevent them from arresting illegal immigrants who take up residence in churches sympathetic to their cause.

That dilemma may pose even greater frustrations now, as Lutheran leaders announced their plan to become the first “sanctuary denomination.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America held an annual assembly last week in Milwaukee, during which it decided upon the measure, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The policy is part of a church program called “Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities,” or AMMPARO, based on a Spanish word that means “protection of a living creature from suffering or damage,” according to the ELCA website.

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Although it seemed to be clearly directed at undermining law-enforcement efforts, the Rev. Rafael Malpica, executive director of the national ELCA Global Mission unit, claimed the church was not encouraging its congregants to break the law.

“This doesn’t mean that we are asking every church to provide shelter,” Malpica said. “We’re saying, in your own way, find ways to help.”

Among the suggestions it posited were providing financial or legal help to immigrants, supporting activist “service providers” and “providing space for people to live,” said the Star Tribune.

Although the talking points and overview provided by the ELCA nominally discouraged acts of “civil disobedience” such as harboring or transporting illegal immigrants, they seemed tacitly to suggest that the church didn’t altogether disapprove.

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“Civil disobedience also has an important and rich history in faith traditions all over the world, but civil disobedience includes accepting the consequences that naturally flow from breaking the law,” said the overview of the new policy. “Thus, sanctuary is a broad term that is applied to a variety of practices, most of which are legal.”

The Lutheran assembly in Milwaukee also organized a prayer vigil outside the city’s office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While presumably nonviolent, it echoed the many other aggressive “Occupy ICE” protests that have sought to intimidate and, in some cases, physically harm ICE staffers in the commission of their duties.

In Minnesota, home to one of the country’s largest Lutheran populations, the Rev. Jim Erlandson at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer told the Star Tribune he supported the new church initiative, citing unsubstantiated left-wing claims about the harsh treatment of those attempting to cross the border.

“The issue is so urgent because of what’s happening on the border,” Erlandson said. “On the news, people are seeing ICE raids, children in detention, people being tear gassed.”

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