In yesterday’s post, I talked about how sanctuary was a part of our worship found in the confession and forgiveness. Today I turn to something else.

For those American Lutherans who are having a difficult time (or just outright oppose) the recent ELCA designation voted on at the recent Churchwide Assembly this month (August, 2019) to designate the ELCA as a “Sanctuary” denomination, it may help to remember a bit of history.

Lutheranism itself would not exist if it were not for Frederick the Wise providing sanctuary for Martin Luther.

“At a crucial period for the early Reformation, Frederick protected Luther from the Pope and the emperor, and took him into custody at the Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms (1521), which put Luther under the imperial ban. His repertoire of diplomatic stalling tactics stood their test; the opponents never finding a weak point. He saw Luther as unjustly persecuted because Luther could not be found guilty of any real crime.”


Had Frederick not provided sanctuary for Luther, Luther would have been caught and executed, just like every previous reformer before him. His writings after that point would never have happened. The theology he developed would not have happened. And there would never have been a Lutheran denomination. Sanctuary saved his life – literally.

Fast forward to the early life of the United States. Southern states inserted a Fugitive Slave Clause in the US “Constitution (Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3) that stated that, ‘no person held to service or labor’ would be released from bondage in the event they escaped to a free state.”


Combine that with the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, “which added more provisions regarding runaways and levied even harsher punishments for interfering in their capture.”


Thankfully the Underground Railroad made escape easier for slaves. The Railroad was “a network of individuals and safe houses that evolved over many years to help fugitive slaves on their journeys north.”


Guides, also called conductors, lead runaway slaves to these safe houses which provided sanctuary to these slaves. If it were not for the Underground Railroad and it’s places of sanctuary for runaway slaves, the 40,000-100,000 slaves who escaped to freedom and the sanctuary of Canada and the North, would not have happened.

Fast forward to 1979, Iran. On November 4, 1979 the US embassy in Iran was taken over by Iranian student protestors. 66 Americans were held hostage and would be held for 444 days. Six escaped though, taking refuge in the Canadian embassy. The Canadians provided sanctuary to these six Americans until they could escape Iran on January 27, 1980.

So my question is this – was it wrong for Frederick the Wise to provide sanctuary to Martin Luther? Was it wrong for the Underground Railroad to provide sanctuary to runaway slaves? Was it wrong for the Canadians to provide sanctuary for the six Americans in Iran?