Ecumenical =/= Interfaith

I have about 200,001 observations to post about the Minns Lectures I attended this weekend. I’ll start posting those soon. Really. But right now I want to post just a quick hit on the second of the conferences I attended this weekend; the Boston New Sanctuary Movement conference.

I considered writing up a summary of the Sanctuary Movement from the 80s, but why think when I can have Wikipedia think for me?

The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. It responded to restrictive federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans. At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations across the country that, by declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” committed to providing shelter, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees. Various denominations were involved, including the Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, and Mennonites. Movement members acted in open defiance of federal law, and many prominent Sanctuary figures were arrested and put on trial in the mid and late 1980s.

So there’s that.

The New Sanctuary Movement, at least here in Boston, focuses on education and advocacy work. It’s an interfaith organization that seeks to educate and activate people of faith around the immigrant rights movement.

Anyway, I went to the conference today. I thought that there was some awesome stuff to be said and I thought that it was a great introduction to some of the work of the New Sanctuary Movement.

But none of that is really what this post is about. I mean, not really.

This post is about the word ecumenical, and what it does not mean. And about the word faith, and what it does not mean. And this post is about learning that sometimes people listen to me.

We opened with some basic conference jazz about what nifty and amazing things you could find in your conference folder, directions to the bathroom, and and explanation of where the workshops would be held. While sitting there as a big group we were told to raise our hands according to faith tradition. I happened to be sitting next to one of two Catholic people n the room when UUism was called out (actually he said “Unitarians,” but I’ll fight that battle another time) and around half the room raised their hands. “I guess we’re under representing” said the woman next to me, with a laugh.

And then the BSN was introduced and the word ecumenical was used.

Ecumenical, you know? According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, “late 16c., ‘representing the entire (Christian) world,’”.

Right, THAT ecumenical.

I sent a kind of fake-annoyed Tweet/Facebook post out about it, and mostly forgot about it until I got to my first workshop. The first workshop I chose to attend was one about Faith and US Immigration History. I really thought I was signing up for a discussion of how faith traditions of played a role in immigration to the US throughout history. The workshop opened with a discussion of what our faiths had to say on immigration… except we only talked about the Bible. What Bible verses could we name that dealt with immigration? What bible stories could we think of? And that was the entirety of the faith piece. We moved on to a timeline of when various immigrant groups came to the US, and then thought for a second on the question, “Who is an American?” and it was just about time to end.

Between the first question and the last I had been doing some thinking.

Some scribbling.

Some quick mental math.

“Do you mind if I say something quickly?” I asked.

“Go ahead,” said the lovely woman leading the workshop.

I didn’t want to miss anything. Or offend anybody.

So I read from the paper I’d written on.

“The Boston New Sanctuary movement is an interfaith movement, not solely an Ecumenical movement. 21% of the people in this workshop, and 26% of the members and partners of the Boston New Sanctuary movement are Unitarian Universalist or Unitarian Universalist Affiliated, which is the perspective I speak from. As a non-creedal and non-doctrinal faith tradition we do not get our drive for immigrant justice from the Bible but rather from our principals that call us to promote respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people and justice, equity and compassion in human relationships. By restricting the “faith” part of this discussion to Biblical stories and verses it really negates a lot of the non-christian faith-based actions regarding immigration reform.”

Yes. I said that.

Ok, ok, settle down, stop laughing.

I have never, ever claimed to not be a dork.


Look, I just didn’t want to forget anything, ok?

And I like numbers!

I’m never going to live that down.

But it did work. After that workshop, which ended a minute or two later, the woman who had led the “faith” portion of the workshop came up to me and asked if I had suggestions to make it more open. I explained a little about the principles and sources we had.

And, yes, I pulled out one of the UU palm cards.

So we talked for a few minutes, and she later told me that during the second workshop she led that she included UUism in the discussion. I’m not sure if she included anything about the Jewish or Muslim organizations that are also part of the BSN. I should have said something about that. I didn’t. I’m kind of bummed.

But I did say something. I spoke up and I was taken seriously and something was changed because of that, albeit something small.

I felt bad about it afterward. I know how hard leading workshops can be sometimes and I know that I hate being criticized after workshops. Workshops become like your child. You are fiercely protective over them. But it needed to be said.


4 Responses to “Ecumenical =/= Interfaith”

  1. I’m proud of you! And no worry about not mentioning Jews, Muslims, and others. I have no doubt that next time you will open the door even wider. Thank you!

  2. It’s awesome that you said something, and while numbers might seem “dorky”… it actually means you did the work to make your point really concrete, backing up what you’re saying. THAT is very rarely the substance of comments and criticisms in workshops I’ve been to, and I think any presenter is much more likely to be receptive with information wrapped up so nicely. Good stuff!

  3. Bravo!!! Well said!! If someone would only pay you for the voice you bring to the movement!:(


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