This post is a response to the post I find on Jon Kuhrt’s blog Resistance & Renewal:
On Resistance and Renewal
Please follow the link above to get the other side of the story here.
I have one caveat to place here at the start. I regret that I do not have the time or energy to craft a better response. I am way too busy with kids and other commitments for a well-crafted, sensitive, even thorough response. But the issue is very important to me and considering the fact that Pope Francis prompts Kuhrt to respond to him, it seems now is the time. So at least my response to Kuhrt is timely. I also want to extend my respect to Kuhrt for all his work and for the open-mindedness he shows us when he welcomes dissenting opinion. Thank you for that Jon.
Jon Kuhrt’s post on Resistance and Renewal is another installment in his bid to refute Pope Francis for instructing the church to give to needy people. As part of that giving, the Pope makes allowance that giving money might be a part of that charity. Kuhrt, who works in poverty ministry/charity as a Christian, says Francis is mistaken for this and argues against this papal instruction.
As part of this second post refuting Francis, Kuhrt adds a link to a humorous video which mocks the naiveté of a church vicar (a church official, for us Americans) as he deals with a street beggar who, it quickly becomes obvious, seeks only to abuse the church’s monetary charity and break trust by spending the money on drugs.
The video is short. It is likely to make many viewers laugh. And it definitely depicts the church that gives money as stupid, and therefore weak, ineffective, and shameful.
A few paragraphs below that, Kuhrt offers a link to an official UK site that seeks to correct the kind of naiveté depicted in the video. The bulk of my response in this post is designed to answer Kuhrt – especially the advice he promotes by way of this link.
Under the link “Helping Homeless Callers”, we find this heading:
“How To Help Homeless People”
The name of the article is “How To Help Homeless People”. I want to take care that my rhetoric express a respectful disagreement here (a courtesy I believe the humorous video fails to offer). So please hear me carefully when I say this. This link is designed to help church folk know how to help the homeless. And that is great. I have no problem with someone writing a pamphlet, book, or website with such a goal in mind. But when addressing the church with the idea that you might instruct her, I think it is important to locate your source of authority. And for most of us Christian types, that needs to at least INVOLVE scripture – if not flat out take scripture as the basis.
I am mindful that plenty of us Bible-thinker types will want to explicate the meaning of passages of scripture as we apply them to our mission. The explications and applications of scriptural analyses will likely be arguable. Just because someone cites a passage and then makes an observation or instruction does not actually settle the matters involved. But when scriptural analysis is entirely omitted, I suggest, the rest of the analysis is, to put it mildly, suspicious. In fact, I really would go so far as to say it is not a word FOR the church at all.
The church is all about listening to God, trusting his word, obeying even if it SEEMS ridiculous to do so. There are literally countless examples of this all through scripture. I will just pluck one and use it here.
Consider Israel’s raid on Jericho. The battle plan God instructs is to go march around the city once a day for seven days. Then on the seventh day, they march around it seven times. Then they blow trumpets (Josh. 6).
That is God’s battle plan for God’s people on that occasion. It does not make much sense in a “secular” light. In fact, it looks worse than naïve. It looks downright stupid. And, in fact, I know of NO OTHER occasions inside or outside the Bible where such a battle plan is offered, considered, or followed. It is absolutely ridiculous in every way, except that it is God’s word. Like giving money to a fiend, it sounds exactly stupid. But Jesus says to give to all who ask (Luke 6:30), and he tells at least one rich guy to sell everything, give it to the poor, and come follow (Mark 10:21). He makes no mention of how smart it makes you look. In fact, if you live like that you are certain to look a bit foolish. And I am not even getting into St. Paul’s notion of God’s wisdom and foolishness (I Corinthians anyone???) But according to God’s word, Israel marched around Jericho and found a deeply surprising success by doing so. And we, the church today, take that story, as part of the word of God, as authoritative. We do not take the “Housing Justice”, the folks who publish the link Kuhrt offers, as authoritative at all – and they make no appeal to God’s word at all.
If we were ANY OTHER organization except the church (the people of faith called by the God of the Bible), then I would not have this criticism of Kuhrt or the link. But we specifically are exactly the organization that is the exception here. Kuhrt is not acknowledging that. But he is promoting a “wisdom” from somewhere else entirely and directing it to the church specifically. As the link describes itself, it is “a guide for clergy, staff, and parishioners”.
I have said enough there to make my case. In fact if you can refute these observations with scripture, then I will shut up about it. If you think you can extrapolate a worthy refutation from scriptural principles, I will give you my listening ear (however, this will be a weaker case than refuting with scripture). If you can’t do either, than my case holds water and you now have to explain to God why you thought the church should nullify his word to do your “wise” thing. And as I have made clear, if you are not the church, that will fly for you – I’m sure. But if you are the church, you don’t have that leg to stand on.
SO… what I say next is just icing on the cake really. I have a lot more reaction to Kuhrt’s post, but it is all just “extra” after that. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to go ahead and drive more nails in the coffin. Let me pick apart a few more statements from the link.
“It can be hard to know how to help because homeless people often have multiple needs, and accessing support services is complicated.”
The good folks at “Housing Justice” (sorry, I am not British, so this is foreign to me, but seems clear enough for our purposes here), are addressing the church, staff and parishioners with this publication, but then also suggest “it can be hard to know how to help…”. Thus, the publication with which to advise us. But as I have already argued, why not just go with scripture as our guide?
I am beating a dead horse at this point. But they did specify that they are helping us (the church) with tasks that are hard to know – at least hard without any reference to scripture. And even though I have already made this point in the larger picture, I sense the fact that it comes up in this publication this far in, rhetorically sucks the church back into leaning on the “Housing Justice’s” wisdom instead of our own understanding or that of the Lord (Prov. 3:5 anyone?). Since the publication actually uses these words, I wish to point this out and go ahead and beat the dead horse.
Next they say:
“The purpose of this guide is to help churches respond to this growing need safely and effectively.”
Now they want to help us respond with safety and be effective. But this is not necessary even at this level, not if the church is listening to God’s word. Jesus would have you pick up a cross and follow him (Matt. 16:24). Taking up a cross is anything but a concern for safety. If the church is so concerned with safety, then let the church talk to God about that. But it is clear from scripture that the early church does not share this concern. Look at Acts 4:23-31. Just when the fledgling church finds some of its members thrown in jail, some executed by the state, and many are hiding, they ask God (not to keep them safe, but) to MAKE THEM BOLD! And to speak the word boldly! And as we know God’s word is plenty effective it does not return to him in vain (Isa. 55:11).
Then, sadly, the link to the Housing Justice publication actually says it again:
“We are working together to help churches be safer and more effective in their outreach to homeless people…”
Frankly, this statement with no sense of biblical reference really borders on dishonest. Helping churches? Is that the states job? Is that your job? Who helps church? Is it not God? And even if there is a sense in which you or I might “help” a church, why would we go anywhere else but to God to get that help? Yet the Housing Justice makes no mention of any effort in the slightest.
Then they say this:
“Don’t give money … No matter what their story is, do not give homeless people money.”
There is not a single iota of Bible that tells you not to give money. On the other hand we have all kinds of examples of money raised to give to the poor, alms given to the poor, and the affore mentioned rich guy directed to sell all he had (which would land him DANGEROUSLY in the ranks of the poor) as he gives his wealth to the poor. The statement here actually contradicts scripture.
NOW… I am willing to entertain the idea that you don’t always have to give money. Acts 3:6 depicts Peter saying that he and John have no money to give to the beggar, and he goes on to give something better. That is true. That is fine. I am not denying that. On the other hand, Kuhrt and the Housing Justice are denying that giving money is good, and that is a problem.
Giving money is often the weaker of gifts. I will not dispute that. But it also has a strength, which Kuhrt and the Housing Justice appear to negate. And that is that giving money is giving respect. The avoidance of giving money is giving DISRESPECT. And that is a problem they have not come out of the shadows with.
Then there is the matter of redirecting the money to their charity instead. And of course giving money to their service is a wonderful thing to do. But when someone comes out and says “Don’t give your money to XYZ, give it to me/us instead, that has a nasty ring to it in EVERY situation there is, EXCEPT for when we are talking about the poor and the addicted, and the only reason it’s not there is BECAUSE these folks don’t have our respect (when we go down that path).
And then the publication hits us with the concern for safety yet again! And of course I have already challenged that, but since it comes up multiple times in the publication, I will mention it again now in refutation.
“Keeping safe … Don’t put yourself, or others, at risk … Put your own safety above the needs of a homeless caller.”
Yeah, just like Jesus says, “Put your own safety above the needs of the homeless…” And then that is exactly the attitude and behavior he models… NOT! This is a strange thing to say to a church, a group who are dedicated to taking up a cross to follow Jesus. Crosses are not SAFE!
The next bit I want to challenge is the advice to “be wary…”
Really??? How about be like Jesus and be vulnerable. Taking up a towel and basin and kneeling before another to wash their feet is a posture taken by the lowliest of servants (in fact this comes very near literally being a doormat of a servant!) AND puts us not only in a humble position but a ready place to be kicked in the face! And this is biblical! On the other hand, being wary – AS A PIECE OF ADVICE – is asking us to be suspicious… to be ruled by fear. This is entirely unbiblical, un-Jesus. But here is the quote:
“Be friendly, but wary … However do not let uninvited callers into your home or office.”
Yeah, keep the outside. Never take a stranger in… Apparently the Housing Justice never read Matthew 25:31-46! And this is one of the FEW places Jesus warns us about the coming Judgment. But the Housing Justice would have you join the goats because you did not invite the stranger in!
And here we go with the “Don’t give money” thing again.
“Never give money… Money can feed an addiction, which in turn destroys their life.”
Then the document advising the church lectures us on managing expectations and behavior. This, I fear, is code for manipulate the manipulators before they manipulate you.
“Managing expectations and behaviour”
Some homeless people will call regularly, particularly if they are treated with kindness. Be honest with them about the limits of your capacity to help. Be clear about behaviour which is not acceptable in and around church, for example drinking alcohol, swearing, littering etc.”
Did you notice the phrase “Be honest … about the limits of your capacity to help”? This is the Housing Justice advising the Body of Christ (bypassing the head, I might add) to open your exchange with the homeless with the limits of your capacity to help. And I can just see Jesus preaching to thousands and saying, “OKAY, you might have heard that I am the Son of God and all… You might have heard that I heal the blind with a touch, leprosy with a touch, and even stopped bleeding when my garment was touched. But I need to be honest with you about my limitations. I only did that on Sabbath to upset the authorities, but really the rest of the week, I cant do that. So you will have to deal with my limitations….”
As a church, that just does not compute. On the other hand, when Jesus is faced with 5000 hungry people (sound like the poor to you?) he tells his disciples, “YOU give them something to eat!” (Mark 6:37). And the funny thing is that the disciples are the ones looking at their own limitations and trying to excuse themselves. They don’t need the Housing Justice to convince them they can’t handle the needs of this many people; they already think they can’t. But the church is the very Body of Christ, the Body of which he is head. And I am thinking this publication is distracting the church from a clear vision of itself and its work.
Look, I could go on and on like this. But I think you get the idea – UNLESS you are resisting it (and if that’s the case you really SHOULD be asking yourself, Why? But of course that is probably the very last thing you are doing IF you are resisting it.
I want to reiterate one last time that my real case here is that this advice does not come from God. It is directed to his church, but it surely is not his wisdom or instruction. I totally understand that his wisdom looks like foolishness to the world, but of all people, the church needs to trust him despite that and be a witness to the world of his glory. After all, we believe Jesus was raised from the dead. We are the only organization that LIVES by that belief. If we don’t, who will? It is our reason to be. Caring for the poor is actually minor by contrast. Still, how we treat the poor is going to take center stage.
The rest of my observations after that are just icing on the cake. I really could get long winded as I uncover contempt in the hearts of those who claim to care while running headlong in the DON’T GIVE MONEY direction. But I will let you figure that out for yourself, for as long as your are resisting this message and the message of God’s word, you don’t actually have eyes to see or ears to hear.