Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sanctuary! Sanctuary! ("The Bean Eaters" and Same Sex Marriage)

I recently finished reading The Bean Eaters by Barbara Kingsolver. Actually, it's a matter of rereading - I'd read it years ago, and now that it's on the reading list for a course I've been assigned I had to read it again.

I always enjoyed the book, so that wasn't a problem (I recommend it, by the way).

One of the subjects the book deals with is the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s. At the time, the U.S. government, in the name of fighting communism, supported a number of repressive regimes in Central America. Those regimes, or the death squads they permitted and supported, murdered a number of people for crimes like forming labor unions or supporting the poor. The dead included Blessed Oscar Romero, who was murdered because he spoke out. And Jean  Donovan and Sisters Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark, and Ita Ford, were murdered by Salvadoran National Guardsmen for their work on behalf of the poor.

As a result of the murders and the oppression, a number of Central American people fled to the U.S. two of the characters in the novel were such refugees. But because of the U.S. government's support for the Central American governments, the U.S. government refused to grant these fleeing people refugee status - to do so would be to admit we were supporting dictators and murderers. So the Sanctuary Movement began. Individuals, organizations, and churches helped to smuggle and hide the refugees. Such actions were illegal, and the people involved could be arrested.

My parish at the time was part of that network, despite the risks. We hid a family - we knew them as the Gomez family - for many months, along with support from other local churches. I was not part of the direct hiding of the family, though I voted in favor of it and we supported what the church was doing. In fact, we had a party at our house and the Gomezes were among the guests. I still remember the father, Alejandro, telling one of my daughters who was prone to touching the animals too much, "No molesta da kitty." And I was part of the delegation representing the parish as a local Unitarian church was discussing becoming part of the movement. I recall one man getting up before the congregation pleading, "Even the Catholics are doing this." They voted no anyway; people did not want to break the law. The government caught up with the Gomezes, attempted to deport them, but members of the movement managed to smuggle them to safety in Canada. None of us were ever charged in connection with this, though we did not know for a while that we wouldn't.

I was thinking about those days thanks to the book, but also because of all the talk about what might happen to people of faith in light of some of the recent government actions, especially the Supreme Court decision concerning same sex so-called marriage. There have already been fines and lawsuits. What's going to happen in the future is unclear, but people are concerned. It would be a sanctuary moment involving smuggling people, but it could result in harassment, curtailment of free speech rights, more suits and fines, loss of business and jobs, and so on.

And the way things are going, the churches won't be able to offer sanctuary: They may be targets themselves.

Pax et bonum

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