I’ve been emailing with a friend concerning politics and this question came up:
“I have never understood why some people want the government to provide services that the Church is supposed to be doing. For example, isn’t is our job as Christians to take care of the poor?”
(below is part of my response)
“Here’s a story related to your question about Christians taking care of the poor.
When I lived in Nashville, I had opportunities to be involved with the homeless in the city. I did that primarily three different ways.
1) I worked with an incredible group of people called Food Not Bombs. It was a group of people who gathered together ever Sunday and prepared a large meal, went to the Veteran’s memorial in downtown Nashville and feed and ate lunch with about 40-50 homeless every week. The group of people where not Christian at all, but rather a rag-tag bunch of folks who shared an ‘anarchist’ philosophy (topic for another time, but trust me, it’s not bad). They were wonderful, caring, consistent and loving people.
2) The church we attended did not have any consistent ‘ministries’ during the time we were there. The general ‘ethos’ of the community was to go out to eat somewhere every Sunday afternoon after church. I encouraged, asked and pleaded with people to join me in hanging out and feeding the homeless in lieu of or in addition to eating out, no one ever came. No one. I encouraged and pleaded with the pastor to invite a homeless advocate to come and speak at sunday service or right after about the homeless, to educate and inform and help us learn what we could do to help, he never let us do that. And it’s not that our church was full of bad people. They where nice wonderful and caring people. Individually I think they probably did a lot of neat things to care for others. There was a homeless guy who started coming to our church for a while and they treated him with the utmost respect. But, if you asked me if the ‘church’ collectively did things to care for the poor I would say no.
3) I worked with a group called Nashville Homeless Power Project. They are an incredible organization of homeless and formerly homeless individuals advocating, mostly on a political level, for dignity, housing and human rights for the homeless. They practiced civil disobedience at times to make their voice heard, took mayoral candidates on an ‘urban plunge’ to experience a glimpse of what homelessness was like, they advocated for more humane laws to keep homeless out of prisons simply because they had no where to go, and a lot more. I loved working with them, but they where quite political, and though many were Christian and there was a spiritual (primarily Christian) element to many of the things they did, they were not exclusively ‘the church’ and much of what they did was to advocate for the government to do things the church by and large had failed to do. And they did a good job of it, they cared for the poor in our community.
I, just like you, only have a finite number of hours to work or help with any given organization, task, or need. That being the case, I had to split my time between those groups. If your goal is to care for the poor and the ‘least of these’ where would you commit your time to?