Faith Communities Pray for the Best, Prepare for the Worst


The Vietnam war was all but lost, Martin and Bobby were six years in their graves, and five burglars had just entered a nondescript D.C. office complex on a clandestine mission that would shatter confidence in a government’s capacity to curb its own worst impulses.

It was against this dread-filled backdrop that a singularly focused Jesuit priest and two community organizers launched People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), a bare bones multi-faith, multicultural program that since 1972 has branched into more than 150 communities in nearly two dozen states.

The organization’s mission and mettle have been tested over the ensuing decades – most prominently during the 1980s, as US Central American policy featured domestic efforts to deport tens of thousands of undocumented persons to their war torn countries of origin.

But for all the challenges PICO and its sister agencies have weathered on behalf of the vulnerable (including an Obama sanctioned, eight-year program that resulted in the expulsion of over 2.5 million women, men and children) none compare to the pending diaspora promised by candidate and now president Trump.

In response, many progressive faith communities have been praying for the best; but some have been preparing for the worst.

PICO cites some 800-and-counting congregations are on record to provide legal sanctuary to targeted Muslims, immigrants, and Latinos and Latinas – an effort bolstered by an array of churches, synagogues and mosques collecting money, food, diapers and clothes.

Other coalitions are also in place or in the works, including Sanctuary Movement, an amalgamation of immigrant rights groups and houses of faith that ground their activism in prophetic traditions and texts about hospitality for the oppressed:

“As people of faith and people of conscience, we pledge to resist the newly elected administration’s policy proposals to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants and discriminate against marginalized communities. We will open up our congregations and communities as sanctuary spaces for those targeted by hate, and work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people.”

There are multiple examples of what such statements look like in the flesh. In a Dec. 27, 2016, profile of Philadelphia’s Arch Street United Methodist Church and its sanctuary program, New York Times contributor Laurie Goodstein tells the story of Javier Flores Garcia, a Mexican immigrant sought by immigration officials following multiple attempts to remain in the US after being removed in 2007. (Flores served prison time for the offenses.)

Flores was scheduled to report for deportation, but instead asked for shelter at the church in order to remain near his family. The congregation and pastor agreed, and now sees to Flores and his small family’s basic needs, incorporating them into the life of the parish as best possible.

Neither Flores nor anyone at the church can say for certain that an emboldened Trump administration would not roll back legal statutes prohibiting officials from entering a religious space with due cause; but for the time being both can live with the uncertainty.

There are similar narratives posted online by congregations across the land and theological spectrum – each an instance of compassion despite injustice, and a reminder that houses of faith have both special status and special opportunities.

It’s yet to be seen how wedded Trump is to his extremist rhetoric; for what it’s worth, his less strident picks for Homeland Security, Attorney General and Secretary of State gave mostly mainstream conservative responses when queried on the topic during their respective confirmation hearings.

Meantime those of us in the pews and pulpits should keep on praying for the best. And preparing for the worst.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Blacksburg, Va. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652