If I was experiencing homelessness these days the place I would go to seek refuge from the elements and to get some sleep would be in the doorway of a church. The reason I would go to a Christian church to sleep is because of the parable in their teaching about the Rich Man and Lazarus. In case you don’t know it, I’ll provide an overview…
There was this rich dude who was living it up… dressing all hoity toity and splurging on expensive food every night… must have been a big foodie or something.
Then there was this poor dude name Lazarus who slept in the rich dudes doorway. He was really tore up… and would have been into dumpster diving for the scraps from the rich mans foodie extravaganzas if they had dumpsters back then. This dude was in really rough shape… so bad dogs would lick his sores.
So anyways, they both died… the poor guy goes to heaven and the rich dude goes to hell. The rich dude was like… “WTF?! Yo Abraham… do me a solid and send that poor guy over to give me a drop of water because it’s too damn hot down here!”
Abraham was like… “Seriously?! Dude… you were living it up! Lazarus got totally beat down, so now he’s chillin’ and it sucks to be you now.”
The rich dude was like… “Bummer… can you send Lazarus to go warn my brothers?”
Abraham… “Nope. Moses is filling them in. If they don’t listen.. their loss.”
So back to what I was saying…
It seems others have the same idea about churches being a good place to sleep because I regularly get contacted by folks in faith communities regarding people sleeping on the doorstep of their church. Some are seeking shelter options for folks, which is cool… some seem to just want them to “move along”. With one shelter bed for every 5.5 people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, I wonder where they expect them to ‘move along’ to?
I guess it bothers people to go to church and be confronted with homelessness as they are walking in the door to go worship. It makes folks uncomfortable. I understand their concerns. But to be real about it, we need to be uncomfortable with such suffering and injustice taking place in our community. There is no better place to be reminded.
Many approaches have been tried to address the “issue”, such as calling the police, hiring security guards, fences/gates, no trespassing signs, sprinklers, etc… and yet that doesn’t really “fix” things because as soon as one person moves on there will be others to take their place.
What’s needed is for faith communities to become more active in the social justice aspect of homelessness. First off, it’s their teaching. Second, many social service agencies are receiving government funding to be able to do the much needed work they do… but in turn they are censored because if they challenge the system they are at risk of losing funding. Faith communities aren’t censored in that way. It should be a moral imperative for people of faith to speak up about it.
Charity is fine, but without justice, there is no charity.
We are currently in the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis has been encouraging us to go out to the margins and have an encounter with people who are marginalized. It may not appear like it, but folks sleeping in the doorway of a church is a gift to that faith community because the folks on the margins are right at their doorstep.