Fife, co-founder of ‘Sanctuary Movement,' speaks at MC Jan. 21

January 8, 2004
Keni Lanagan, Administrative Assistant
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The Rev. John Fife, Moderator of the 1992 Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly and co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement that provided shelter to Central American refugees in the 1980s, will speak at Maryville College at 7 p.m., Jan. 21, in the Fine Arts Center Music Hall.

Fife will discuss his current work to provide essential water, food and medical assistance to save lives of migrants attempting to cross the desert from Mexico to the United States.

There is no admission charge and the public is invited to attend. The event is a Faith and Learning Event sponsored by the Center for Campus Ministry and the Office of Church Relations. Fife is visiting Maryville College as part of Freshmen Seminar 130: Perspectives on the Environment, which takes place during the College’s annual January Term. In this three-week course, students engage in a broad study of nature-related issues and address the basic question of what it means to live an environmentally ethical life.

Fife will be sharing the evolution of his environmental ethic and offer a theological perspective on protecting the environment as part of his keynote address to freshmen, scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Jan. 21, in Wilson Chapel. (This address is also open to the public.)

“ Rev. Fife is most know for his social justice work with immigrants from Central America, but his faith has also led him to be a devout environmentalist,” said Jeff Bay, associate professor of statistics at Maryville College and a former student of Fife. “He believes all people of faith have a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment and to protect and care for God’s creation.”

Although Maryville College students represent diverse religious backgrounds, Bay believes they all will benefit from hearing this perspective. “I hope Rev. Fife’s insight on Biblical perspectives of environmental ethics will encourage them to further develop their own environmental ethic.”

The pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., Fife and volunteers currently are involved in a humanitarian struggle in the Southwest. They are coming to the aide of migrants who risk their lives every year while trying to cross the Mexico-U.S. border through the Sonoran Desert. According to patrol statistics, in 2001, 78 immigrants died trying to cross the desert; 74 deaths were reported in 2000.

The deaths occur due to the soaring desert temperatures and lack of adequate water and food. The effort has become known as “Samaritans.” The group has three purposes: to respond to the unacceptable number of deaths in the desert; to re-open space for Southern Arizonians to practice hospitality and offer aid; to call attention to the inhumane federal policy, Operation Gatekeeper, and to re-open public discourse about federal immigration policy.

In the 1980s, Fife was among dozens of volunteers who helped Central American immigrants escaping political persecution and civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador find sanctuary in the United States. The new effort, however, is not a re-vamped Sanctuary Movement, mostly because current migrants are coming to seek economic opportunities and not to escape persecution.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.