Valley Voices

Fresno Pacific University: Ask yourself, would Jesus provide sanctuary for undocumented students?

After weighing the guiding spirit of Fresno Pacific University and protecting the well-being of FPU, President Richard Kriegbaum decided against making FPU a sanctuary for undocumented students.

It was his right and his responsibility as president to make this decision. But how he supported his decision by affirming FPU as an institution committed to “wise public policy” and as a “Christ-centered university” is confusing and problematic.

To take the policy point first: He lays the blame for illegal immigration at the feet of “bad public policy and practice.” He goes on to say, “we support wise public policy that helps us correct” the current bad policy and practice. When this happens, all can follow “the rule of law that promotes liberty and justice for all.”

But the “wise public policy” does not yet exist. Following the rule of law today means identifying and deporting students who are undocumented immigrants. Religious institutions have traditionally provided sanctuary for the oppressed and the vulnerable, those who are being targeted by those charged with upholding the law.

Besides providing some aid and comfort for those protected this way, these acts of defiance help push for needed changes in the law. If FPU were to do what the 700 faculty, students and alumni have requested, then the university would be helping to create the condition that the president wants as well. But he cannot justify his decision based upon the importance of honoring the rule of law when the law has not changed.

As for being a “Christ-centered university,” Kriegbaum is up against the biblical Jesus and the Mennonite Brethren’s deep roots in nonviolence, each of which raises serious challenges to his decision.

As one of the more conservative branches of the Mennonite tradition, the MB are known for an absolute stand against war, other armed conflict and violence in general. Granted, this does not necessarily mean automatic support for sanctuary. But the fact that such a large number of faculty and students at this MB-supported university have petitioned to have the school shield undocumented students warrants a reconsideration of this decision.

Finally, and perhaps least understood even by many who are Christian, to follow the biblical Jesus means standing up to existing authority when it is not in harmony with God’s all-encompassing love and compassion.

Jesus was far from a supporter of the status quo of his day. He pointed out repeatedly that many were being poorly treated by the society around them, economically and socially – the poor and the despised.

The rule of law that existed in the time and place of Jesus’ ministry had two sources. The first was the Roman Empire that had strong control over the region. The Romans showed no mercy to those who disobeyed or who were considered agitators. For Jesus’ followers to call him “Lord” was itself an act of defiance against the empire, for Caesar owned that title, among many others.

The second source of power came from the Jewish establishment of that day. This method and degree of control is the same for any dominant group that holds sway over a society, not because it was Jewish. For them, Jesus was a troublemaker, someone who ran the risk of angering the Romans, who might turn against the whole society. They kept peace by quieting those like Jesus who objected to the norm of that day.

Pushing for change that increases the well-being of others who are marginalized is inevitably unsettling and even dangerous. Yet, after the fact, when the changes have been made, people invariably celebrate the outcome.

If Kriegbaum wants to follow Jesus’ leadership and wants our society to become the gracious place he points to, then making FPU a sanctuary, following the guidelines named in the petition, would help push for these needed changes.

David Roy has a Ph.D. in theology and pastoral counseling. A California licensed marriage and family therapist and a fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, he is ordained in the United Church of Christ. He is ending his 40-plus-year psychotherapy practice to develop some ideas about the most basic motives for oppression and violence.