a close-up of two people's arms, and their linked hands.

By Taquiena Boston

Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?

So opens the song by Ysaye Maria Barnwell, a founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock and the All Souls Church, Unitarian Jubilee Singers. The lyrics entreat heart and conscience. The song is the voice of those threatened by violence, exclusion, and oppression extending pleas for sanctuary and solidarity.

In a polarized United States where politics divides dinner tables and town halls, individuals and communities are targeted because of race, religion, sex, citizenship status, gender identity, and sexuality. While all people who are othered in the current political environment face very real threats to their lives, sanctuary is mainly attributed to immigrants and refugees coming to the United States.

Sanctuary is a religious practice of solidarity in many faith traditions. It goes beyond welcoming the stranger to committing to protect the one who is “other” as if they are part of us. In congregations engaged in immigrant justice, sanctuary references the “New Sanctuary Movement” of the 21st century that extends protection to undocumented immigrants. The Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s was when churches and temples provided refuge for Central Americans escaping civil war and political persecution.

Today, in my hometown of Washington, DC, 60 congregations representing 17 faith traditions across the metropolitan area have committed to becoming sanctuary congregations. Some will house individuals and families to harbor them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, detention, and deportation. Some will engage in advocacy and protest. Some will focus their support for services like “Know Your Rights” trainings. The largest efforts will be to encourage public institutions and local government to not comply with anti-immigrant policies and practices.

But faith communities, including Unitarian Universalist congregations, have offered sanctuary in numerous ways.

Sanctuary to Black people traveling the Underground Railroad to attain free person status in Canada and the northern United States.

Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, a Truth
a fugitive or a slave?

Sanctuary to Jewish refugee children during the Second World War when Martha and Waistill Sharp “defied the Nazis” to accompany those children out of Eastern Europe to settle in the United States.

The welcome of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer identified people into faith communities as congregants and religious professionals is a form of sanctuary that affirms the sacredness and wholeness of LGBTQ community.

Would you harbor a Haitian, Korean, or Czech,
a lesbian or a gay?

In 2017, people of faith and conscience are called by communities of resistance to expand our understanding of sanctuary to include

· Undocumented families and their Dreamers children

· Muslims – U.S. born and immigrant

· Refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries

· Activists challenging white supremacy in the Movement for Black Lives

· Transgender and other gender non-conforming people

· Water Protectors at Standing Rock and the Sacred Ground of Indigenous Communities

· Any community that is vulnerable to state-sanctioned violence, identity-based exclusion, and social, cultural, and political oppression, and

· The Earth that sustains our very lives.

Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew
a heretic, convict, or spy?
Would you harbor a run away woman, or child,
a poet, a prophet, a king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee,
a person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?

(Words and music by Ysaye M. Barnwell, (C) 1994 Barnwell's Notes Publishing, recorded by Sweet Honey in the Rock (R). Used with permission. Visit Ysaye M. Barnwell's website for more information.)

About the Author

Taquiena Boston

Taquiena Boston is the UUA’s director of Multicultural Growth and Witness and a member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C.

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