More than 30 clergy declare houses of worship ‘sanctuary’ for immigrants

The Rev. Dave Barnhart and the Rev. Jennifer Sanders are among the signers of a letter declaring their houses of worship to be sanctuary for immigrants. (Photo by Greg Garrison/


More than 30 clergy and religious activists in Birmingham signed a letter issued today declaring that they would offer sanctuary to immigrants.

The Rev. Paul Ecknes-Tucker, pastor of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Birmingham, said he and other clergy have been talking about what they would do in the case of immigration raids in Alabama.

“The raid over in Mississippi last week was a pivotal moment for us to begin talking about what we would do here if faced with similar things,” he said. “We talked about helping with kids, giving them a safe place to be.”

A total of 680 people were arrested in Wednesday’s raids, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Declaring a church or other house of worship to be a sanctuary means immigrants seeking shelter from apprehension and deportation would be protected, Ecknes-Tucker said.

“It’s to offer a safe place for people to be and figure out what they’re going to do next,” he said.

He has discussed the matter with his congregation and they are ready to help if needed, Ecknes-Tucker said.

“They’re up to the challenge,” he said. “My congregation is very progressive on these issues. Red Cross uses us as a shelter when there’s a natural disaster. We have cots, kitchen and bathrooms.”

Churches are places of protection and can take a stand against what they feel is unwarranted interference from law enforcement, Ecknes-Tucker said.

“They are not allowed to enter a sanctuary, a place of worship,” he said. “We anticipate there may be legal challenges to that, but we are willing to make that stand.”

Here is the statement that has been passed around and signed by more than 30 people:

“To the People of Birmingham and Neighbor Communities

“From Concerned Clergy, Faith Leaders, and Faith Communities of Birmingham

“Though we represent diverse theological perspectives and traditions, our mutual commitment to the sacred and ethical treatment of our neighbors transcends boundaries: we believe in loving our neighbors as ourselves, in doing no harm, and in seeking the best for every member of our community. We believe that our ethical and theological commitments require us to take a stand against policies and language that dehumanize our immigrant siblings.

“Our faith communities have watched with growing astonishment the racist, xenophobic, and violent rhetoric from our national leaders, and we see how this language is used to vilify both documented and undocumented immigrants. We are appalled by the hostile policies applied to immigrants and asylum seekers. And though we love and support members of law enforcement who seek to serve and protect their communities, we lament the way law enforcement policies have been weaponized as part of an agenda to promote ethnic nationalism. We are resolved to resist the dehumanization of our neighbors, and stand for their human and civil rights.

“To that end, we affirm that:

  • Our houses of worship will be sanctuary for those seeking refuge. We will not allow immigration authorities to enter into our houses of worship without a warrant signed by a judge.
  • Those of us who cannot safely offer sanctuary will actively and intentionally support those who do open the doors of their houses of worship to provide sanctuary to those who are being targeted by immigration enforcement operations.
  • Following the lead of the communities who are most impacted, we will take action and speak out when ICE raids target our neighbors.
  • We will challenge xenophobic, racist, and white nationalist rhetoric both inside and outside our places of worship. We will seek to create intentionally inclusive and accepting worship spaces that protect the rights and dignity of all human beings.

“We also call on our elected city and county officials to refuse to comply with federal infringement on the rights of our neighbors; specifically, we call on Sheriff Mark Pettway to no longer detain community members without a warrant or transfer them into ICE custody.

“Stories from our faith traditions are full of saints and holy ancestors who stood up for the rights of their marginalized neighbors, or who opened their doors to strangers and were blessed by visiting angels. We stand firmly on our scriptures and our traditions that this witness is necessary, timely, and in keeping with our faith.”


Rev. Dr. Dave Barnhart

Saint Junia United Methodist Church

Rev. Majadi Baruti

Udja Temple

Rev. Taylor Bell

Baptist Church of the Covenant

Rev. Ramone Billingsley

The Theological Collective

Shastri Janet Bronstein

Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center

Rev. Adam Burns

Church of the Reconciler, UMC

Rev. Valerie Burton

Baptist Church of the Covenant

Pastor Kurt Clark

Sardis Missionary Baptist Church

Rev. Julie Conrady

Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

Jim Douglass

Birmingham Catholic Worker

Shelley Douglass

Birmingham Catholic Worker

Rev. Doreen Duley

United Methodist Church

Rev. Tom Duley

United Methodist Church

Rev. Paul Eknes-Tucker

Pilgrim United Church of Christ

Rev. Joe Elmore

United Methodist Church

Rev. J.R. Finney

Covenant Community Church, UCC

Rev. Carolyn Foster

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

Rev. Joe Genau

Edgewood Presbyterian Church

Rev. Cat Goodrich

First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham

Rev. Sonya Gravlee

United Church of Christ

Pastor Isaac Guazo

Iglesia Metodista de México

Rev. Dr. Samuel Hamilton-Poore

Presbyterian Church USA

Rev. Terry Hamilton-Poore

First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham

Rev. Caitlin Harper

Community Church Without Walls, UMC

Rev. Garrett Harper

Community Church Without Walls, UMC

Pastor Sally Harris

Grace Lutheran Church, ELCA

Rev. Ron Higey

Birmingham International Church

Rev. Dr. R. Lawton Higgs, Sr.

United Methodist Church

Rev. Kelley Hudlow

The Episcopal Church

Rev. Paula Champion Jones

United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Kip Laxson

Asbury United Methodist Church

Pastor Eva Melton

The Firm Foundation Church

Pastor Adam Mixon

Zion Spring Baptist Church

Rev. Dollie Howell Pankey

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. Emily Freeman Penfield

Woodlawn United Methodist Church

Rev. Charles Perry

Magic City Spiritual Community

Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers

The Abbey, Episcopal

Rev. Jennifer Sanders

Beloved Community Church, UCC

Ashfaq Taufique

Birmingham Islamic Society

Nancy Whitt, Clerk

Birmingham Friends Meeting

Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons

First United Methodist Church of Birmingham

Rev. Angie Wright

United Church of Christ


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