Acton Institute Powerblog

Asylum vs. Assistance

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In connection to Acton’s recent coverage of the New Sanctuary Movement, which shelters illegal immigrants in churches to protect them from deportation, see this fascinating Christianity Today piece that explains the history of the church sanctuary concept.

A few excerpts….

“As a product of a time when justice was rough and crude,” law professor Wayne Logan summarized in a 2003 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review article, “sanctuary served the vital purpose of staving off immediate blood revenge.” If the church could be convinced that the sanctuary seeker’s life was not in danger, it would turn him over. “The church, in short, played a foremost role as intercessor,” Logan writes. Fugitives in medieval English sanctuaries, about 1,000 a year, were able to negotiate financial compensation or a punishment like scourging or exile.

In other words, sanctuary properly understood is not about protest, but about offering refuge and help. Medieval churches providing sanctuary didn’t argue that the broken laws were unjust or that sanctuary seekers were heroes. They just wanted to save lives, show grace, and offer room for repentance. Sanctuary as political protest undermines the moral authority that it invokes, for it is just a form of hospitality to like-minded allies. “If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?” someone once asked. “Do not even pagans do that?”

Brooke Levitske


  • I am concerned that Acton is giving too much authority to the state.
    It is imperative that we recognize the difference between Natural Law and Legislated arbitrary law.

    The natural law protects life liberty and property and enforces contracts.
    Arbitrary law is primarily a vehicle for privilege. Laws restricting immigration are no different from laws restricting trade in that they are anti-competitive protectionist measures which award a privilege to incumbant citizens. Such laws are unjust due to their arbitrary and pre-judicial nature. They are pagan, and there exists no justification, moral or consequentialist for such evils.

    Nathanael Snow