The Church's Response To The Homeless
January in the Midwest, arguably the coldest month of the year. In Kankakee, the battle over the care of the homeless is to be decided today in the city council.
Fortitude Outreach is a relatively new care provider in our community, using a mobile model of care where the location is different each night, has teamed up with a local church for one of these nights. This seems reasonable right? A church who sees the needs of their community and is willing to offer their building as a temporary housing, one night a week.
The problem is that the homeowners in that neighborhood have signed a petition to disallow a zoning relief which would allow them to operate as a temporary housing facility. Chairman Dave Crawford and Larry Ozinga, have caved to a measly 40 person petition created out of fear instead of facts.
Here are some facts...
1. For every homeless person who comes into Kankakee's only permanent homeless shelter, Gift of God Street Church, there are more than 10 homeless people who will not come in for various reasons.
2. Many homeless people struggle with untreated mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse.
3. The homeless that you are trying to keep out of your neighborhoods are already there, you just fail to see them. (ie. the scrappers that go up and down the alley, the guy who always seems to be sitting in McDonalds drinking coffee, the people walking up and down the sidewalks all hours of the day and night, ect.)
Many cities have enacted measures which make it virtually illegal to be homeless in their town, with legislation against sleeping within so many feet of a public building or a business, installing benches with dividers so you can't sleep on them, and sidewalks with raised bumps to discourage sleeping on them, ect.
With all of this, what is the church's response to the homeless? The care of the stranger and the needy is a uniquely Judaeo-Christian value given in the Bible, and virtually unheard of in the middle east and eastern world. While there is no clear mandate that we have to care for everyone who is homeless with no expectation of anything in return, it is a general principal, first given in the Old Testament, and then reiterated in the New Testament to care for our church brethren first, but as a practice of love, to care for others as well. Our primary mission should be the preaching of the good news of the gospel for the care of their souls, but as an expression of our love, we should be ready to lend a helping hand in the way of food, clothing and shelter as the need arises.
The preaching of the Gospel and the care of others should have never been in question, and this sets a dangerous precedence for the church. The secular world has claimed that there is a separation between church and state, based on a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, but this letter was only to reassure them that the government was not to have any interest in interfering in the affairs of any church. This was a reinforcing of what was penned into the constitution when it said "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
If a local municipality in backwater Kankakee Illinois is able to infringe on the free exercise of Religion based on the petition of 40 people, what other constitutional freedoms are they able to infringe on?