Last week church leaders all over Australia began to offer sanctuary in their church buildings to 267 people seeking asylum whom the government is planning to deport to the detention centre on Nauru. The offers have increased in number over the weekend, and it is now approaching 50 congregations involved.
One blogger suggested this offer was, “Invoking a practice from the Middle Ages during the height of Christendom.” His comment reflects numerous criticisms that have appeared on social media. So, is the Christian invocation of sanctuary an appeal to a dying age of Christendom?
I don’t take these critiques lightly—after all, I am an Anabaptist. But critiquing particular acts of churches and Christians as being rooted in Christendom is fraught with difficulty. “Christendom” is a complex reality, denoting multiple dimensions of a lengthy historical situation. It can simply refer to those lands in which Christianity was dominant from Constantine, through the Medieval period, up until the present day. It might also refer to those arrangements between the church and state during this period that bestowed on the church a privileged status in society.
Is sanctuary a product of this latter definition of Christendom simply because it arose during the height of Christendom? Read the rest of this entry