The plight of immigrants is a "humanitarian crisis, a moral outrage and an affront to God," said a United Methodist pastor during a press conference on providing sanctuary for immigrants.
That's what the Rev. David Farley, pastor of Echo Park United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, told an April 25 press conference. He was joined by the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. Both pastors are on the frontlines of the sanctuary movement.
The press conference was organized by the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration and moderated by San Antonio Area Bishop Joel Martinez. Panel members called attention to resolutions going before the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, meeting April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth. United Methodist bishops, agency executives and an immigration lawyer were part of the briefing held at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The two proposed resolutions -- one on global migration and another on immigration in the United States -- are sponsored by the denomination's Board of Global Ministries and Board of Church and Society.
"More than 800,000 people a year are displaced and on desperate journeys," Farley said. He is part of a collaborative sanctuary effort in Los Angeles that includes many faith groups. "It is a humanitarian crisis, a moral outrage and an affront to God to criminalize them."
Coleman said it was a "gift" to his church to offer sanctuary to Elvira Arellano. Arellano, 32, and her 8-year-old son, Saul, a U.S. citizen, lived in Adalberto United Methodist Church from Aug. 15, 2006, to Aug. 16, 2007. Arellano was arrested in California and deported to Mexico on Aug. 19 -- four days after she left the Chicago church where she had received sanctuary for a year.
"It publically raised the issue of sanctuary and her witness was successful," Coleman said. "Over 7,000 people came to fast and pray with her, and we were forever changed."
Time to step forward
Referring to a press conference held on the same issue during the 2004 General Conference, Bishop Felton May, interim top executive of the Board of Global Ministries, wondered if anyone would step forward during this session and confront the issue.
"What would it look like if United Methodists said to Bushy, 'Tear down this wall'?" he asked.
"We don't need to throw another pity party &ellipsis; we need to give life to a sanctuary movement."
Jim Winkler, chief executive of the Board of Church and Society, Erin Hawkins, chief executive of the Commission on Religion and Race, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, episcopal leader of the Los Angeles Area, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, episcopal leader of the Chicago Area, and Monalisa Tuitahi, a United Methodist immigration lawyer, also addressed the 175 people gathered in the church for the press conference.
Farley said he has been "blessed to serve a church of immigrants" for the past 26 years.
"I want to tell you about Jonathan, a member in my church with the voice of an angel," he said. "Jonathan is a soccer player, an honor student and an acolyte."
In Jonathan's family his adopted father is under a deportation order and cannot become legal "no matter how hard he tries," Farley said. Jonathan and his family live with the fear that he could be taken away at any time.
"It is for families like this that the sanctuary movement was formed," he said.
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405 or (817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470.