- Sean Cayton
- Linda Seger
Another member of the nascent local sanctuary coalition, Linda Seger of the Colorado Springs Friends Quaker Meeting, hopes the movement can change public perceptions— not just of immigrants but of religious people too. As author of the book Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians Are Democrats, she's dismayed that Christian Americans are commonly associated with right-leaning politics. Locally, she chalks it up to the heyday of evangelicalism that Focus on the Family ushered in during the '80s and '90s. Focus, she notes, had a reputation for political mobilization on behalf of socially conservative causes and the GOP candidates who champion them.
"When I say, 'I'm a Christian Democrat,' people look at you blankly, like that's an oxymoron," Seger says. "But there's more than a thousand Bible verses about how a person, a nation even, is to care for the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, the broken and hurt, the marginalized and oppressed."
She reckons the social gospel first got subsumed when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. "On the one hand it kept Christians from being persecuted, but on the other it put them on the side of power, on the side of the state," Seger notes. "So, historically, the split seems to come from that time on, when the church became more powerful and wealthy."
She's hoping the sanctuary movement can remind churchgoers that Jesus taught his followers to love their neighbors, which, in this contemporary moment, means all those groups — Mexicans, Muslims and refugees, especially — who Trump has sought to rile hate against. "The Christian message is one of unity, love and caring about mercy and justice," Seger says, adding that faith is by no means a requisite of morality, lest she be criticized for "making a big fuss about being Christian."
"Faith commands us to help out," she says, "and that's where sanctuary comes from."
A history of helping immigrants
Deep trust between undocumented immigrants and citizen allies may be rare at the moment, but it hasn't always been that way. Eric Popkin, sociology professor at Colorado College, recalls the last heyday of immigrant organizing in Colorado Springs. In the early years of the new millennium, a grant from the Colorado Trust funded the creation of the Pikes Peak Immigrant and Refugee Collaborative based at CC, where Popkin was heading the new Civic Engagement Center.
A wide range of constituencies comprised the collaborative, including representatives from the Pikes Peak Library District, local law enforcement and religious institutions, as well as English as a Second Language instructors, public health workers and members of the immigrant and refugee communities. One meeting had nearly 300 attendees, he remembers, with translation in six or seven different languages.
"There were several iterations and initiatives," Popkin recalls, "including bilingual dialogue circles, pro bono legal services and training for immigrant leaders. ... Everything played into, 'How do we better integrate immigrants into Colorado Springs?'"
Out of that work, a group called Latinos Unidos formed with a function similar to the contemporary group led by S.H. It all culminated in a massive public demonstration when Congress was considering (but ultimately passed over) comprehensive immigration reform during the George W. Bush years. After that, grant money dried up and the group disbanded, parts of it folding into Catholic Charities' family and immigration services center.
"That was really a great effort, so I was disappointed the momentum kind of dropped off," Popkin says, adding that this burgeoning sanctuary movement is the first time he's seen promising signs of a resurgence. "I was pretty encouraged by that first meeting. Sanctuary could be a good vehicle for people to start coming together to talk about these issues, so, yeah, all kinds of things could come out of it. Sanctuary is one response, but I think the situation calls for a multiplicity of responses."