sanctuary (1)

GUEST POST: Rethink Sanctuary

GUEST POST: Rethink Sanctuary


By Mike Glenn


In ancient times, church buildings were sacred places. If you needed any kind of help, you would go to the sanctuary and someone would give you food or water…whatever you needed.  If someone was after you, you could hide inside the church and no one could harm you as long as you were in the church building. A few years ago, several churches resurrected this doctrine to protect illegal immigrants – especially mothers with children– to hide them from authorities who would have arrested and deported them. There is a space where no one in the world can get to you. We call it “sanctuary.” 

Our digital age has changed our understanding of space. We can work from anywhere. We can connect from anywhere. We can do anything from anywhere which means anything can be done to us anywhere.


We aren’t safe anymore, anywhere. Not only do we have to worry about hackers stealing our personal and private information, we have to worry about being caught in a social media frenzy through no fault of our own because someone posted a picture or used us in a meme, all without our permission.


We’ve learned to live very guarded lives. We’ve learned to be aware of who’s using a camera on their phone, to be suspicious if anyone is taping our conversations. These days, everyone has a cell phone.


When in public, you have to assume everything is either being recorded or videoed. How many politicians, athletes and corporate executives have been caught in compromising situations because someone had a cell phone? How many adolescents have had their lives ruined because something about them got out on the internet?


The obvious thing is to always be aware that everyone has a phone these days and to act accordingly. But it’s not that easy. In our world of constant surveillance, we’ve lost something. We’ve lost trust in each other. We’re worried about what the other party will do with the information we’ve just given them. Does everything I say to you end up on social media? Will I find myself unknowingly quoted on X, or Instagram, or Tick Tock?


What’s more, we’re beginning to understand no one actually lives the way they say they do in their social media. Imagine that…people lie on social media. The consequences of this constant state of pretending is we’re slowly losing our true selves. Too many of us become our pretend selves, our public selves and we’ve lost our true identities because we can’t find a safe place. 


And where is a safe place?


In Corinthians, Paul reminds the early church they are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. They are to be careful about the places they go and what they do because wherever they go, they take the Spirit of Christ with them. It also means, we as believers take the sanctuary of Christ with us wherever we go. That means, when people show up in our lives, we do what we can to help. It also means that when someone, anybody, is in our lives, no one can hurt them. They are safe with us. We will give our lives to protect them. 


Sadly, churches and Christians have lost the presumption that people are safe with us. The sexual scandals and abuse stories that have broken across the whole spectrum of churches have resulted in people thinking churches and Christians are to be avoided rather than sought out. Christians are seen as self-righteous and judgmental. It breaks my heart to know we have earned these criticisms. 


But what if, as Christ-followers, we began to rethink the concept of sanctuary? What if, taking the teaching of Paul seriously, we began to understand that we, as Spirit bearers, are the sanctuaries, the safe places, of our communities and neighborhoods? What if the word got out that people were safe with us? When they were with us, no one would judge them, no one would harm them, and no one would condemn them. 


People could come to us and be themselves. We would listen, really listen, not just wait to talk. Our friends would know we’ve heard them and we know them. And we would love them. 


No, I’m not talking about a superficial “just love everybody” bumper sticker philosophy. I’m talking about a love strong enough to bear the cross for the beloved. To love a person through all the heartbreak, confusion and darkness that are part of all our lives. To be there, like a lighthouse, that doesn’t move and remind our friends every day, we’re still here. God is still here. We are bearers of His presence. 


And the world is safe with us. You can lay your burdens down and sort through them. You can face your pain and not be overwhelmed in the process. Sure, we’ll tell you the truth. True love demands that kind of honesty, but we won’t beat you to death with it. We’ll find a way forward.


More than that, with the help of Christ, we can find a better way. Jesus promised that. 


These days, everyone is looking for a safe place. We shouldn’t be that hard to find. Every Christ follower is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Every believer is a safe place. Every Christian is a sanctuary.




© 2024 Scot McKnight, 548 Market Street PMB 72296, San Francisco, CA 94104


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