A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

United Methodist Church Giving Sanctuary to Soldier

In Tacoma, Washington, the First United Methodist Church is giving sanctuary to an army officer who does not want to go to Iraq (full story). The church has issued a statement saying that all persons will be given harbor "who are unable to deploy to combat areas for reasons of conscience."

Historically, sanctuary has been given to people who were accused of a wide range of crimes, some justly accused and some not. It was a temporary reprive (usually forty days) so that the one being protected could determine his or her next move which could range from standing trial to exile. Santuary was, therefore, an interim solution.

It will be interesting to see how this situation in Tacoma progresses and how it will be handled in keeping with the historic tradition of how the church has provided sanctuary throughout the centuries.

What do you think? Should the church provide sanctuary to soldiers based on conscience? What about accused criminals? Please weigh in.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Good question. Hard. But churches should not shrink back from the difficult. We must be willing to go by faith into difficult areas.

I am empathetic with this church's action. But I haven't always thought that a well thought out Biblical theology has characterized all such churches (such as some churches of denominations part of the WCC).

But any church should help such pastorally. And help them to do what is right, even in the face of possible imprisonment. And should certainly stand by such who are motivated by Christian conviction.

My thought on this at this time. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Can't answer this one quickly. Didn't know sanctuary was still recognized - didn't know aboout the 40 days. Gut reaction - like euthanasia, seems wide open to abuse. Is there not a Conscientious Objector option still available? Going to go back and read the full story since there is no draft, what is he doing in the Army. Will get back to you on this one. Marilyn

Allan R. Bevere said...


The pratice of sanctuary has been around for so long, that I would hesitate to suggest the practice should be abandoned. But like you I have felt that, at times, individual churches and denominations (of the mainline variety) have not applied very much theological rigor to the positions they take.

If the church is going to continue the practice of sanctuary, I would like to see the denomination it belongs to put some guidelines in place to be followed instead of churches instituting it simply because the issue involved suits their political perspective. One of the things that cannot be lost is the practice of sanctuary for people who have committed acts or take positions which with the church does not necessarily agree. The church also needs to come to grips with the purpose for the sanctuary in the first place, and what is the desired end to be achieved.

Allan R. Bevere said...


You are right; this is not an easy issue. You raise an impotant question about his own commitments he made to the army. From a military perspective, it will simply not work if individual soldiers are allowed to pick and choose what orders to follow. So putting the practice of sanctuary aside for a moment, it seems to me that we also have the matter of his keeping the oath he took.

When I was ordained, I placed myself under the authority of the bishop, which meant, among other things, that I would serve any congregation to which I was appointed whether I liked it or not. I knew this when I took those vows. While there is a process of consultation between pastor, church, nevertheless, the bishop has the final say. The system would collapse if we allowed pastors to pick and choose whether or not to follow the bishops orders. Keeping the vow I made over twenty years ago is a matter of integrity for me.

This raises the question of whether the church offering sanctuary to soldiers who took oaths is assisting them acts of dishonesty.

I am not rejecting the practice of sanctuary, but shouldn't the church not only place emphasis on sanctuary and protecting those in need, but also on honesty and truth-telling and in people keeping their word?