Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On Jan. 28, Duke Divinity School sponsored the conference "Loving Our Neighbor: Embodying Sanctuary" to equip religious leaders and places of worship in the ministry of providing sanctuary to immigrants and vulnerable populations. The event—which drew more than 200 pastors, lay leaders, and students—took place at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C.

Villegas speaks to attendees
Villegas, M.Div.'06, led an introductory session about the purpose of the conference.

The conference explored how sanctuary is grounded in faith convictions, the history of the Sanctuary Movement, implementation for today, and potential legal implications for providing safe haven to immigrants and others in the state of North Carolina—including tensions between legality and Christian witness.

Speakers included Isaac S. Villegas, the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in North Carolina; Erin Guzmán, program facilitator at Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tenn.; AmyBeth Willis, an organizer with the National Sanctuary Movement based in Tucson, Ariz.; and Hans Christian Linnartz, the lead attorney at the Linnartz Immigration Law Office in Raleigh, N.C.

"The conference reminded members of the Duke Divinity community and the community at large how important it is to create spaces of reflection and action that go beyond political convictions and that address critical issues impacting vulnerable populations," said Ismael Ruiz-Millán, director of the Hispanic House of Studies. The conference was sponsored by the Divinity School Office of the Dean, the La Union Latina student group, and the Hispanic House of Studies, with support from Durham CAN and the Western North Carolina and North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church. 

Dean Elaine Heath addresses attendees
Dean Elaine Heath addressed attendees.

During the conference, breakout sessions encouraged participants to make connections with other attendees and develop concrete action plans. Daniel Camacho, M.Div.'17, a co-organizer of the conference, said that attendees are developing a sanctuary task force and are planning a public action in about one month with other community organizations.

"Loving our neighbors is a fundamental gospel issue," said Camacho. "Given our current political climate, we believe that churches can't sit and wait to see what happens. Instead of feeling powerless, religious leaders need to see how their churches and ministries can be on the front lines of holy resistance. We must stand with the marginalized because God stands with the marginalized and because Jesus Christ himself was a refugee who was rejected and killed with the silence/approval of religious and political establishments."