Why Did CityWell Decide to Offer Sanctuary to Samuel?
There are several elements that contribute to this decision. First, nearly 15% of our congregation is Latino, and after the election of President Trump, there was a significant concern among these brothers and sisters for the situation facing their community, specifically with regard to heightened vulnerability to deportation for undocumented family members and neighbors, as well as for DACA recipients. Sanctuary was an opportunity presented by Latino CityWellers for the leadership team to consider as a faithful way to love our neighbors.
Second, Samuel asked. Samuel has deep relational connection to CityWell through Alma and Ismael Ruiz, who served as Samuel’s pastors in Greenville and are now part of the CityWell family. When faced with a deportation order, Samuel reached out to the Ruiz family, and so to us. We believe that no person or congregation can do everything, but that we must attend to those things that the Lord puts in front of us. We believe this is one of those things.
Third, as a pastoral team, we are compelled by scripture to offer sanctuary. Consider Leviticus 19:33-34: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (see also: Exodus 22:21-23, 23:9, Deuteronomy 24:14-22, Ezekiel 22:7, 29). We are compelled by Jesus teaching that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). We believe Jesus meant it when he said, “when I was a stranger you welcomed me... for whenever you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me” (Matthew 25:35, 40), and we are hopeful that in welcoming Samuel we are welcoming our Lord. We think that when Paul said, “when one part of the body suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26), that this includes Samuel, who is without question part of Jesus’ body, and who, with his family, is suffering deeply. We are convicted that when Paul wrote, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7), that there is not a caveat to exclude people based upon borders, nationalities, and immigration status.
The CityWell pastors only decided to offer sanctuary to Samuel after a very focused process of listening to our neighborhood (approximately ⅓ of which is Latino), and to our congregation. In the week before the decision to offer sanctuary was made, CityWell teams canvassed the neighborhood, speaking to over 70 Latino residents, 7 Latino business owners, as well as 3 Latino pastors and their congregations. We handed out this flyer to everyone we engaged in conversation, so that people would have basic information and an awareness of potential risks. Where many concerns were shared, as well as a few objections to our moving forward (3 to be precise), the overwhelming majority of respondents expressed strong and hopeful support. We also employed this survey to gauge the level of support for sanctuary within the congregation, knowing that without a strong base of support, we could not move forward in good faith. Again, the overwhelming response was for CityWell to become a Sanctuary Church. So, based upon support expressed from Latino residents, business owners, and pastors in the Lakewood neighborhood, and from a great many people in the congregation, the CityWell pastors decided to extend the offer of sanctuary to Samuel. We took this step with the conviction that God has called us into a covenant practice of welcoming as we are welcomed by God in Jesus, and that this is a faithful response to that call.