Resolution 3: Becoming a Sanctuary Diocese

Resolved, That the 168th Convention of the Diocese of California declares the Diocese of California to be a Sanctuary Diocese;

Resolved, That the Diocese of California, including its congregations and institutions, supports Episcopal Church initiatives, and connect with other local and national sanctuary communities and institutions, immigrant rights groups and coalitions, and public officials to engage in educating, organizing, advocacy, legal direct action, and other methods as deemed appropriate in each context, to ensure the safety and security of the unauthorized immigrants and refugees;

Resolved, That the Diocese of California pledges to support and to encourage congregations and their members to continue the work begun with previous General Convention and Diocesan resolutions seeking meaningful reform of U.S. immigration laws and policy; and

Resolved, That the Diocese of California commits to direct resources toward equipping congregations to engage in such work appropriate to local contexts, capacity, and discernment.


Explanation:  For many years, immigrant families have suffered on the margins of our society. They have been scapegoated during difficult economic times and victimized by harsh anti-immigrant ordinances passed by some states and localities.

Because of policies being instituted by the current administration, migrants and immigrants in this country fear more than ever the break-up of their families, the loss of homes and business, and the destruction of the lives they have built in this country, often over decades.

This resolution puts our faith into action by standing with the growing number of communities of faith, cities, colleges and organizations declaring themselves places of welcome, refuge, and healing for those targeted by hate due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference as we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure respect for the dignity and human rights of all people (e.g., BCP p. 305). We acknowledge that Holy Scripture calls us to welcome the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 19:34, Matthew 25:35), and therefore as a people of faith we commit to challenging oppressive systems and building structures and communities that reflect God’s compassion and justice, we must do nothing less than make straight a highway in the desert for our sisters and brothers.

Of particular concern are the current administration’s efforts to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants, including veterans who have served honorably in the US Military, utilizing “Expedited Deportation” without Due Process for individuals NOT convicted of a felony or violent crime,  and threatening to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has granted temporary relief for thousands of young people in our communities and families with US Citizen children.

What does it mean to be a Sanctuary Congregation? Involvement of sanctuary faith communities across the United States ranges from:

  • Education & Advocacy including signing petitions, attending hearings on relevant legislation, and/or participation in civic demonstrations (this could involve planned civil disobedience but such action would be an individual decision);
  • Accompaniment of Immigration Families or Youth. This usually involves members of the congregation, supported by the prayers of the congregation, accompanying families to hearings and providing emotional support;
  • Networks of Protection & Rapid Response, which involves being present at ICE raids to ensure compliance with law and accountability;
  • Physical Sanctuary for persons facing deportation and support of individuals and families seeking refuge.

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution each contain a due process clause, and as far back as 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all persons in the United States of America have constitutional rights to due process which safeguards against the arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government outside the sanction of law.  So, undocumented immigrants do have legal rights to due process under the U.S. Constitution and federal statute. Thus we hope that all congregations will find a form of being a Sanctuary Congregation that is appropriate to the local context, and that members of the Diocese can agree to support at least the first three types of Sanctuary above. 

Speaking of engaging with controversial issues, Bishop Marc has quoted Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold saying,  "To open the door of one's heart is to relinquish certitude in favor of living the questions and to see Christ in all who knock 'on the right or the left…It means to embrace and take into the inner chamber of one's own being seemingly irreconcilable and passionately held points of view, submitting them to the truth who is Christ and then remaining steadfast, even in the very midst of hell, without despair."

Submitted by:  The Rev. Davidson Bidwell-Waite,; Ms. Sarah Lawton,; The Rev. Anna Lange-Soto,

Endorsed by:  Diocese of California Sanctuary Task Force.


Forgive me if I am splitting hairs, but Frank Griswold is a former Presiding Bishop. (last paragraph of resolution)

I was at St Timothy's Danville sanctuary discussion on aug 31. The presenter mentioned a desire for this resolution to grow outside the bounds of the diocese of California. He hoped that it would expand to all of California dioceses then to the National church. My sense of this discussion, was that the people around me supported the first three components of the resolution - advocacy, accompaniment, and protection. People, myself included, seemed less enthusiastic about physical sanctuary. If the goal is national adoption, which I think is great, I wonder if it would have more effectiveness without the physical sanctuary component? Deleting the fourth, would not prohibit congregations and individuals from following the call of conscious.

Thank you, Todd Bryant, for your comment. For clarification, this resolution (#3) is intended for the diocese, and #2, if passed, would be sent to the General Convention for debate and consideration at the churchwide level. I know there are other dioceses discussing this issue, and it is highly likely it will be on the table in some form at General Convention. It may not emerge from legislative committee and both Houses looking exactly like the wording you see here in Resolution #2 - what we are doing if we pass this is putting the issue on the table, basically, and saying we support something like this.

With regard to "physical sanctuary" - we use the word sanctuary in some ways provocatively, to spark and deepen conversation. It has theological roots, obviously, and the more I hear conversations at the deaneries and in congregations, the more I think we are being called to reclaim the word as Christians. Our gospel understanding is that every person has God-given dignity, and in calling ourselves a sanctuary church, we are saying that the church will work to safeguard the dignity and due process for all people, including immigrants. In a broken system, there is much to do - pray, because that reminds us of and calls us into our connectedness with our immigrant neighbors; advocate for better laws and policies; and witness, accompany and protect people through the legal process.

In terms of physical sanctuary: First thing to note - that is in the explanation as an example of the range of actions possible and is not in the text of the resolution itself. Second thing to note - the current draft of the resolutions specifies that we are committing to "legal" action, leaving civil disobedience to individual conscience. Physical sanctuary can be done well within legal means - for example, St. John the Evangelist in San Francisco is currently providing housing and other material support to three young people from Central America who are making asylum claims. Regardless of the outcome of their cases, they currently have legal status to be here, and to work and go to school, while their cases wend through the court system. Another example of physical sanctuary would be providing guardianship to older teens, who have some kind of status like DACA or US citizenship, but whose parents are deported - and the kids want and need to stay for education and safety reasons. All of these are examples of physical sanctuary offered within legal means! We are leaving the question of civil disobedience - for example, providing physical sanctuary in our churches for those under final deportation orders off the table for now. There are people who are willing to think about that step, but it's not in this resolution.

I hope this clarifies. Please feel free to write more on this blog, or to contact me directly at to continue the conversation.

Your sister in Christ,
Sarah Lawton

It may be helpful to look at what other dioceses have done on this issue. Here are two I know of:

New Jersey: (they passed resolutions on being a sanctuary diocese and sending a resolution to GC)

Los Angeles:

In Christ,
Sarah Lawton

I appreciate Ms. Lawton’s Sept. 26 reply to Mr. Bryant’s remarks of Sept. 1 that this resolution 3 is not intended to promote or suggest any civil disobedience. Therefore, the word “such” in the last clause of the resolution should be read to refer only to the resolution’s preceding clauses.

I am very doubtful, however, about this resolution. First, it strikes me as having a political component. I gather this from the materials submitted in explanation of the resolution. For example, there are references to the “current administration” and to non-church organizations which may have political orientations. I am wary of the church’s proclaiming itself as an ally of any political movement or as an actor within a political context.

Second, I do not see the need for this resolution or the wisdom of passing it. If Gospel love does not discriminate, I do not think that the church should explicitly define special groups as recipients of that love. I do not think that the church should seem to take sides when there are other worthy minorities in the United States - for example, those whose hearts and means have been injured by the calculatedness following on NAFTA or by changes in energy sourcing that have impoverished Lourdes coal country. The church can perform right now services to the whole community, including the very same service mentioned in the resolution. For example, a congregation might choose to assist or house an asylum applicant, present in the United States under color of law, without the benefit of the resolution. Therefore, the church is free to act, but not at risk of the negative consequences of any public resolution.

Third, I believe that sanctuary movements have also had negative side effects. Before the municipal sanctuary movement, I believe that the Department of Homeland Security spent considerable resources on monitoring persons released from prisons and county jails. The benefit was an enforcement focus on the antisocial - for example, spouse abusers, drunk drivers, and so forth. With the restriction to this approach, the DHS has expanded its scope to more undocumented persons who are not antisocial. If I am correct regarding this shift in focus, the sanctuary movement ironically had some role in the greater scope of DHS activities.