In a recent article, Alexia Salvatierra, who is an adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary and an immigration activist, wrote a thorough history of the Biblical and American experience with immigration, the sanctuary movement, and current realities. It is a great resource, but also a call to participate in the care of those who are being harmed. Comparing the modern sanctuary movement with the “Cities of Refuge” and the “Underground Railroad” the call focuses on the center of Free Methodist biblical commitment and our own history of abolitionist action.
In part she writes:
“In the thirty-fifth chapter of the Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible, the writer lays out a remedy for a social and legal problem. In ancient Israel, the penalty for murder was death, “a life for a life.” Family members of the slain person normally carry out the sentence. However, the writers of Numbers recognized that it would not be fair for accidental killers to receive the same punishment as those who kill intentionally. Raging family members could not be expected to stop midstream and investigate; the community is instructed to create cities of refuge where the accused can be kept safe until they can receive a fair hearing. The cities of refuge are the solution for people who committed a crime and received an unfair penalty.
This ancient remedy is the root of the sanctuary church tradition. Since the fourth century in England, churches have offered protection and shelter to those accused of a crime but who would be likely to be punished unfairly if left unprotected.