A church in The Hague is going to extreme measures to show its intolerance for the anti-immigrant sentiment that has spread across Europe in recent years, as it enters its 38th day holding continuous services in order to protect an asylum-seeking Armenian family from deportation.
The Tamrazyan family was given sanctuary by Bethel Church on October 26 after they learned the Dutch government planned to deport them. They have lived in the country since 2010, after reportedly fleeing death threats in Armenia due to their political activism.
"There was only one thing you could do and that was starting a church service to save the life of this family, but also call attention for the fate of so many children in similar circumstances." —Theo Hettema, General Council of the Protestant Church of The Hague
Taking advantage of an old Dutch law stating that police and immigration authorities cannot enter a place of worship when services are taking place, the church has held round-the-clock worship for more than 900 hours since the family moved in.
"There was only one thing you could do and that was starting a church service to save the life of this family, but also call attention for the fate of so many children in similar circumstances," Theo Hettema, chair of the General Council of the Protestant Church of The Hague, told the Associated Press.
The church's pastor started by copying and pasting "the liturgies of the last 10 years into one huge document" and preaching from it until other preachers from the area volunteered to take shifts at all hours of the day and night.
As of Monday, about 500 volunteers from all over the country and neighboring Belgium had offered to give sermons and lead services.
"The aim is to create time and space for dialogue with the government about a dilemma that no church should be placed: choosing between respect for the government and protecting the rights of a child," Hettema said in a statement.
The Tamrazyan family has three children ranging in age from 15 to 21. Like hundreds of other young refugees in the Netherlands, the three children were denied an appeal after the Dutch government overturned their asylum status. The Netherlands has a "Children's Pardon" law ostensibly granting asylum to children who have been in the country for more than five years, but according to the group Defense for Children, the law is rarely observed because "the eligibility criteria are so strict."
The church's direct action comes as other faith leaders are calling on religious communities to do more to protect refugees and immigrants across Europe and elsewhere and to combat the fear-mongering of far-right politicians like President Donald Trump, Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders, and Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini as they push dehumanizing anti-immigrant policies.
"Condemning the violence at the border and the lack of humanity in our country's actions is not enough," the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, president of the United Church of Christ (UCC) said in a statement late last month as human rights supporters were horrified by images of parents and children being tear-gassed by border patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border. "We need to take public stands about the cruel withholding of lifesaving refuge by the United States government."
Dorhauer urged church leaders and members to contact their representatives to challenge the treatment of refugees by the Trump administration, as well as "make visible a sign of support for migrants seeking better life" by placing signs on church property to express solidarity with immigrants around the world.
UCC national leadership is urging member churches and congregants to mark the season of Advent by heeding the call to embrace the other, and to offer a public Christian welcome to migrants seeking safety and protection in the United States. https://t.co/FYWxKTod8J
— United Church of Christ (@unitedchurch) November 28, 2018
"It is a tangible reminder that 'Jesus was a refugee…Matthew 2:14.' This story is the story much of our nation will be focusing their attention on for the next four to five weeks – the birth of Jesus," said Amanda Sheldon, a program associate with the UCC, in a statement. "We should not miss this Kairos moment God is creating for us to force people to see the parallel with the birth and subsequent flight of Jesus and the Holy Family and the thousands of families at our border asking simply for the same."