Posted by: Dan | September 30, 2007

Christian Community as Sanctuary (On Hosting Runaway Bank Robbers)

So, it turns out that the fellow that we had crashing on our couch several months ago — the fellow that I ran into on the street one night and brought home with me — was actually on the run from the cops at the time. He had just been released from a twenty-five year prison sentence (mostly for robbing banks), had breached his probation, ran, and, voila, ran into me. I only just discovered this information tonight (this explains why he got restless after a couple of days and decided to take off).

Good to know. Although, to be honest, I don’t think I would have done anything differently if I had known at the time.

It is worth recalling that, in the early Church, and the medieval Church, the church (building) was legally considered a place of refuge for criminals, including murderers, thieves, and runaway slaves (hence, the title of “Sanctuary” is given to the interior of the church). Consequently, although no such legal recognition exists today, and although our church sanctuaries tend to be anything but places of refuge for criminals, I think that the principle still holds, and contemporary Christian communities should begin to explore what it means to be a sanctuary today (after all, other religious orders, like the Franciscans, continued to hold to other standards — even when the legal “right of asylum” became increasingly restricted — as the “Earlier Rule” of Saint Francis makes clear: the brothers are to welcome all people into their dwelling places, including robbers and other outlaws).

Indeed, I would like to suggest that intentional Christian communities, rooted in inner-city neighbourhoods, are exactly the sort of places where we should, once again, begin to apply such notions of sanctuary (regardless of whether or not such places of refuge are legally recognised). I would, however, be interested to hear what others think about this.

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