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On Father's Day, Ohio Religious Leaders Pray For Reunification Of Immigrant Families

Rick Senften
The Father's Day service drew faith leaders and immmigration advocates to Pilgrim Congregational church, which became Northeast Ohio's fourth sanctuary church last month.

One of Northeast Ohio’s four sanctuary churches held an interfaith prayer service this weekend marking Father’s Day and protesting the Trump administration’s policy of splitting families at the border.

Rev. Kelly Burd and about 75 others from the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ gathered outside the imposing stone church on Cleveland’s west side, praying for guidance, faith and courage.

The church formally became a refuge for Eulogio Hernandez Box a month ago. Byrd says that followed months of planning and a century of tradition for her church.

“It was built as a place of hospitality and support for incoming immigrants when there was – even back then – hostilities,” Burd says. “So we feel like we’re standing on a long legacy of holy work that involves hospitality and love of neighbor in this particular way.”

She acknowledges there are mixed feelings among immigrant advocates about drawing attention to particular situations. Where that seemed to work in immigrants’ favor in the past, it may actually make some a bigger target for Immigration and Customs Enforcement today.

Recognizing that, Byrd says, her group took month studying the issue before it opened its doors.

“We decided we would only be referred by someone who was under immediate threat and someone who had asked,” she says.

That person turned out to be Box, a father of four American-born children who came up from Central Ohio, where he had been active in his Catholic church and a leader in his community.

Burd says the sanctuary gives him a little time and a chance to legally go through the process of asking for a stay of deportation.

“But he also felt it was an important way to highlight what other people are going through and to call attention to this,” Burd says.

Pilgrim’s involvement in immigrant issues predated Trump administration policy, which now includes separating parents from their children at the border. But Burd says the cause has a new urgency.

“As a parent, it tears my heart out,” she says. “I have two young children. I think anyone who knows the love of a child and the anxiety of losing them for 10 minutes in a grocery store can only image the horror of being told that your children are being removed from you, or being tricked into taking them into another room and not being reuinited.

“It’s not just a human rights violation,” Burd continues. “I believe it to be a form of terrorism. It stands against everything we believe as people of faith. Our ways of being together in this world need to honor the basic essence of a family and the basic human dignity of people.”

She acknowledges that, in justifying the policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a Bible verse from Paul to the Romans calling for obedience to the law. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it “Biblical.”

Burd says that’s no excuse.

“Slavery was Biblical; are we justifying that?” Burd says. “The ownership of Pharaoh over the Israelites and the mass genocide in the Bible – it’s Biblical, but it’s not in keeping with our moral values that come out of the Bible.”

Burd thinks they should take guidance from elsewhere in the Bible.

“Look at the teaching of Jesus,” she says. “You see a teaching that is based in love, that is rooted in care for the neighbor, for the orphan, for the widow, for the foreigner.”

Byrd says she and other advocates plan to launch a campaign through the fall and is encouraging other churches to take a closer look at the sanctuary movement.

“Talk to your faith leaders. Explore what your faith tradition says about this,” Burd says. “And think about – even if you can’t take someone in physically – becoming a sanctuary church in spirit and in advocacy and education."