Grace for The Homeless

In previous blogs, I have challenged attitudes in Bucks County, PA regarding the homeless, being hard on some in the Christian community.

Christians are sinners saved by grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. That is, grace is God doing good for us that we do not deserve. In response for God showing us grace, Christians are to grow in grace and be more like Christ, and show grace towards others.

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” –2nd Corinthians 9:7″.

Many churches in lower Bucks County have opened their doors to the homeless. They feed the homeless and needy, talk with them and make them feel at home. They treat their guests as friends. One church in particular, Saint Mark AME Zion Church in Newtown, refers to them as “friends without walls.” To make guests at the meals as well as visitors to the church feel welcome, they sing “So glad you’re here, so glad you’re here, so glad you’re here in Jesus name…”

And they mean it.

Saint Mark hosts early Sunday afternoon meals once a month for their friends without walls. Officially, the meals start at 2 p.m., but some friends drift in as early as an hour before serving time. The church is open, and  people in the church are down where the meals are served, setting up. They chat with the early birds as they drift in.

Throughout the history of the church, some congregations have followed the Word of God more than others. An exemplary early church was The Church at Ephesus, which Jesus Himself praised for its patience. Patience is translated as “endurance under trial.”    This church got a lot of flack from the false religions in the city, but they kept the faith.

Other early churches allowed worldly views to pollute them.

Today the world tries to bring the church down to it’s level. Some “churches” just take on a worldly, judgmental view.

The Salvation Army was established with a mission to help the downtrodden, the poor, the homeless, even the seedy people of the street to give them a hand up to restore them through God’s Word. Today in Levittown, PA, however, the local Salvation Army Community Center helps the homeless grudgingly, not exactly a cheerful giver. They put on a show, much like the Pharisee in the parable in Luke 18 who bragged that he was not like the tax collector who also came to the temple but  faithfully followed the letter of the law.

The meals for the homeless at the Salvation Army start at 6 p.m., sharp. They are not welcomed in until then. And when they enter, social services director Queen Latifah prods them about like cattle and warns them about not running around the building and tells them generally to behave, as if they are children or criminals. There have been countless complaints about the queen, but the boss, Captain Caspar Milquetoast, doesn’t lay down the law. He once told me that he was going to keep her in the kitchen, but he didn’t follow through on it.

Particularly prevalent today is the politically correct, which dictates beliefs contrary to God’s Word. Captain Caspar evidently does not want to take a stand against the queen, for fear of the politically correct. He also didn’t take a stand against community relations and development director The Countess of Carlisle after she, in Stalinist style, punished me for disagreeing with her about the way the homeless are treated by thwarting my offer by an official from division headquarters as a writer for the Salvation Army.

On one occasion, a man who had recently become homeless came to the Salvation Army Levittown Corps (and it’s starting to be rotten at the core) for food. It was hot and he was flushed. I offered him a ride to the Levittown public library, where he could get the bus to the community meal and where an advocate may be able to help him, after I finished my volunteer work at the food pantry. As he was waiting in the uncrowded lobby, the Countess sternly told me he couldn’t hang around. After I explained he was waiting for a ride from me, she reluctantly acquiesced.

In criticizing churches I try to be as gracious as possible. Peace is not necessarily the absence of conflict. As Romans 12:18 says “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But sometimes things must be said and action taken, for example, Jesus driving the money changers out of the church.

As was the case with the early churches, where the apostle Paul encouraged the churches to follow the Word of God, I encourage the churches to show grace towards the homeless, who were made in God’s image. The world, the Bucks County establishment, is cutting the homeless very little slack – they are mostly graceless. Christians must show God’s unconditional love to others.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16

Wossamotta U Versus Church

In the last blog I praised the churches in lower Bucks County, PA for countering judgmentalism and apathy towards the homeless taught at Wossamotta U. and showing respect and empathy for them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wossamotta_U

“Don’t talk about us; talk with us” the slogan some homeless people created is a reality in lower Bucks County.  A large part of hobophobia, the irrational fear of the homeless, is a result of just not knowing them.  So people talk about them without knowing who they really are.

Intermittently, the homeless have been harassed at the Veteran’s Memorial in Levittown, but now, except for a rare rogue, their rights have been respected and the harassment has eased off.

Initially, the new guard at the nearby municipal building, fed by misinformation, tried to shoo the homeless from the Veteran’s Memorial. But once he got to know them he lightened up. Just today one of the homeless guys who was at the memorial said the guard has been “cool”.  When I first met the new guard I told him “we have to break you in.” Taken aback he spouted “I don’t need to be broken in” — and informed me that he was a trained law enforcement officer…  After he mentioned enforcing rules, we realized we were on the same page, but that my concern was that the rules be enforced even handedly.

The harassment at the memorial was driven by false witness by those who hate the homeless, including the WIC office in the municipal building, which faces towards the memorial. A woman with COPD who went into the WIC office to get warm one winter during business hours was booted just because she was homeless.

Harassment against the homeless has been the case at the Levittown public library for the past two years. Lately, it got so out of hand that I filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The problem is Pat, the head librarian and her sidekick. The other librarians, however, have been not been only respectful of the homeless but have gotten friendly with them. They even gave me a card to bring with me when I visited a homeless person in the hospital.

In an attempt to shoo the homeless from the library, they have been hassled various ways, in some cases thrown out for the day or longer for minor problems. In one case, the homeless woman who was  thrown out of WIC was reading when the librarian told her she needed to do something to stay in the library. The latest case was when the head librarian, Pat, out of the blue, told a homeless man he had been talking loud all week and threw him out, although other people, especially bratty kids, consistently talk much louder.

Many of the churches and individual Christians have reached out to the homeless in lower Bucks County, showing them respect, understanding and empathy.

There are some, however, who must have taken night classes at Wossamatta U.

“The Countess of Carlisle”,  the community relations and development director at the Salvation Army Levittown Community Center told me that people don’t like the homeless in the library when they visit because they are dirty, spread food out all over the tables, etc. I asked her if she witnessed that (she didn’t)  and told her that I do go there and found this isn’t the case. I added that if someone breaks a rule about eating in the library, simply tell them to stop. This Salvation Army official didn’t want to know the truth, and just kowtows to the worldly, judgmental views of the community.

“Queen Latifah”, another elitist at the Salvation Army, treats the homeless like criminals and children when she hosts the community meals.

In the homeless community itself, false witness has created problems. Rumors were spread about someone I didn’t know in this community, but once I got to know him, I found that I was told lies.

Lies were also told about a guy who visits the community meals, but was not homeless, but in need. This fostered fights, which sometimes started to get physical. There was an incident at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Penndel, PA where someone came to the meal drunk and screamed at the victim of false witness, physically threatened him, and had to be restrained.

Yet the perpetrator was let off the hook. One of the advocates from the Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need (AHTN) twisted what happened  and the victim, who did a rope-a-dope, was blamed. The next time  the victim went to Redeemer Lutheran for the meal, he was told he was banned, because, a church representative said, he was saying negative things about the homeless.

I respect the homeless, and don’t take the stance that, because they are homeless, they are not responsible for their behavior. The victim and I pushed the issue and got the perpetrator temporarily banned from the bus. After this time out, he didn’t cause any more problems.

Recently, another homeless man, on more than one occasion, caused a ruckus at a community meal. Since the last ruckus, he hasn’t been at the meals. We must have set a precedent.

A  non-homeless person who visits the meals said she was told to use caution when going to the meals. She was afraid someone might come at her with a weapon and that someone told her not even to look at the homeless people there. I allayed her fears and explained that my experience is that the worst thing that happens is occasional quarrels, usually alcohol driven. Normally the meals are a pleasant experience, where there is great fellowship.

Most churches have been gracious towards the homeless. They not only feed them, but sit at their tables at community meals and have developed relationships with them and mentored them.

This is the way it should be.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

–2 Corinthians 5:20