Evangelicals are entering the debate on the morality of the sanctuary movement.

The parishioners of the Wheadon United Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois, call him Juan Gonzalez. But that’s a name he adopted to remain anonymous.

Juan is an 18-year-old undocumented alien from El Salvador, one of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans living in the United States illegally. He believes that if word of his whereabouts gets back to his home country, the family he left behind will be killed.

Gonzalez is living under the protection of the Wheadon church, one of about 100 U.S. congregations that since 1982 have declared themselves “sanctuaries.” More than 1,000 other churches endorse and support the growing sanctuary movement. To support their actions, they cite the church’s biblical and historical role as a haven for those fleeing persecution.

Like many others who have fled Central America, Gonzalez has a dramatic story to tell. He says his village was raided by Salvadoran government soldiers. He and his brother escaped, but lost track of each other. Gonzalez returned a few days later to find his brother hanging in a tree, his heart cut out and his hands cut off. Says Wheadon copastor Greg Dell, “I have no doubt that if Juan would return to El Salvador, he would be killed, too.”

The U.S. government does not regard most of those who have come from Central America as refugees. According to the Refugee Act of 1980, an alien must demonstrate “well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group, or political opinion” to achieve refugee status. Less than 3 percent of the Central American applicants for political asylum receive it. Hundreds of Central Americans are deported each month.

The ...

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