Thinking Out Loud

June 13, 2014

Southern Baptists Condemn All “Heaven” Books

Heaven is for Real books

If you haven’t heard, this week’s Southern Baptist Convention convention (redundancy intended) included a resolution that basically said, ‘To hell with heaven books.’ Blogger Kristine McGuire summarizes the story accurately in this introduction,

There is an article on Charisma News which is reporting that the Southern Baptist convention has issued a resolution stating books (and now presumably movies) such as Heaven is for Real and others like it (such as My Journey to Heaven by Marvin Besteman, To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary Neal, and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper) are not in line with “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and are determining to remove Heaven is for Real from Lifeway Christian Stores.

And it’s taken them how many years to come to this decision? Heaven is for Real has been in stores since 2010…

continue reading here

Christian Retailing reported the same story:

…The parent body of LifeWay Christian Stores stopped short of calling for such products to be pulled from the retail chain, however.

Delegates—known as messengers—to the Baptist body’s assembly focused on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife,” cautioning against putting books about personal heaven experiences on the same level as the Bible’s description of the hereafter…

continue reading here

But certainly the rule here should be caveat lector, let the reader beware. By extension, isn’t any Christian book in danger of being elevated to the same status of the Bible? And doesn’t this already happen in certain circles, where the words of both Charismatic and Reformed superstars are given an almost divine authority.

Black Christian News reported:

In another cultural pushback, Baptists affirmed “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and criticized best-selling movies and books that have focused on heaven and suggested descriptions of it.

“Many of these books and movies have sought to describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” they said.

In the same session where the resolution was passed, a messenger asked that Heaven Is for Real be removed “for theological reasons” from LifeWay Christian Stores, which are affiliated with the SBC. The request was ruled out of order.

continue reading here

J.D. Hall at the blog Pulpit and Pen notes:

What’s forgotten is that Burpo’s book (and Wallace’s movie by the same name, Heaven is for Real) is nothing new, novelty, or unique. Phil Johnson gives a good list of books with similar testimonies that have become so prominent in the evangelical marketplace that Tim Challies has come to call the genre “Heaven Tourism.” Johnson gives the list including My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . .A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man’s Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese.

continue reading here

Heaven is for RealHis article is titled “Heaven is for Real: Is Discernment Dead?” and makes the point that in the final analysis, “the details of the book ought to strictly and immediately raise the red flag of discernment for even the most elementary of Christians – let alone those serving as provost of Southern Baptist seminaries.” But he seems to disagree that giving so much stock to the child’s story as to render it worthy of condemnation is the wisest move. Good, personal discernment is all that’s needed.

Many articles noted that LifeWay did not actually end up having to remove the book from sales. There’s too much money to be lost, and LifeWay is a cash cow for the denomination. In various places here we’ve reported on instances where the company puts profit over principles, such as Southern Baptists’ wholesale condemnation of women in ministry, while at the same time publishing and promoting the ministry of Beth Moore. 

By falling just shy of condemning the book outright at LifeWay, the company leaves itself open to carrying the DVD, certain to be both popular and profitable. The film has earned $89,007,517 in the U.S. so far according to Box Office Mojo, and ranks 15th for 2014. The movie is scheduled to release on July 22nd from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, with an initial MSRP of $30.99 for DVD and $40.99 for Blu-Ray.

Related:

April 24, 2014

Of Fancy Homes in Hidden Places

front_gate

Lately, a lot of attention has been turned to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and are building. In an internet world, with Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch on earth, there are very few secrets.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

When we tried to track this particular campus this week, we couldn’t locate it. But we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone has started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion.  I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here. Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA

April 4, 2014

Bad Ad Placement

Filed under: education, ethics, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

So last night I was relaxing watching The Big Bang Theory on CBS, and the local station ran a teaser for a story about a 49-year old teacher charged with kissing a 13-year old student. WIVB-TV reported:

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – A Casey Middle School art teacher is resigning after admitting she kissed a 13-year-old boy on the mouth.

Donna Sleap pleaded guilty in court on Thursday to endangering the welfare of a child. Staff members alerted administrators about her behavior in October, and the art teacher was placed on leave in December. The incident was reportedly caught on video…

[...continue reading here...]

Then, Big Bang Theory returned, but CBS begins each segment by plastering animated advertising over the bottom one-third of the screen. This one was for a new comedy series beginning April 24th titled — wait for it — Bad Teacher.

[series] Centers on a sexy, foul-mouthed divorcée who becomes a teacher to find her next husband.

[first episode] Former Trophy Wife Meredith Davis seeks a return to a life of leisure and luxury by posing as a teacher at an upscale Elementary school to meet the students’ rich, single fathers and land one to marry.

[...continue reading at IMDb...]

I guess I’m supposed to be outraged by the former, and then tune in to be entertained by the latter.

Still, the timing was strange. The local station had no idea what the network was going to do, and of course the network could care less what the affiliates are running.

…speaking of which; if there’s an ad currently running on this article, it’s not from us!

 

 

 

January 23, 2014

Christian Denominational Heads in Israel With Canadian Prime Minister

The Canadian falls at Niagara are probably frozen as you read this

The Canadian falls at Niagara are probably frozen as you read this

Sometimes I make a discovery online only to recognize that another blogger can handle the story better. Besides, with a 72% American readership, stories about my home and native land aren’t really all that interesting. So I passed on this and besides, the link list took priority yesterday.

In Canada, many of our political scandals have to do with the misspending of funds. With one tenth of the U.S. population, budgets are smaller and errors generally don’t run into the billions, as they might south of The 49th Parallel. But when the Prime Minister decides to take 208 people with him to Israel, it’s hard not see a future scandal in the making. At the very least, it’s an obscene amount of spending. The government is covering the airfare for 30 of the 208, and hotel (and presumably this entails some food) for all of them.  This does not include an official delegation of 31 which traveled on whatever the Canadian equivalent is of Air Force One.

But a handful of the travel party were the heads of some of this country’s largest Evangelical denoms.

Don Simmonds from Crossroads Christian Communications
David Wells, Pres. of Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC)
Don Hutchinson, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC)
David Hearn, president of Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA)(and his wife)
Stephen Jones, president of Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists of Canada (FEBC)
Shawn Ketcheson, pastor Trinity Church, Ottawa

The EFC thing actually duplicates the three denominations since it is the umbrella group to which they all belong. No mainline churches are represented; no Presbyterians, no Anglicans, no Roman Catholics and no one from the United Church of Canada, whose ministers are now moving to become Canada’s first clergy trade union.

Should the Evangelicals have accepted this gift? Honestly, methinks not, especially should the word ‘scandal’ ever become attached to this little junket/photo-op. Okay, for the business representatives that are part of the 208, it’s more than a photo-op, but for a Member of Parliament who was caught by CBC news begging to be allowed in to the Western Wall with the PM for some pics, it was more about domestic politics back home than foreign relations.

But like I said at the beginning, this type of story really isn’t my beat, so we’ll throw you over to investigate journalist Bene Diction.

(you were supposed to click that!)
(Bene can take all the tough questions!)

November 30, 2013

Talk Show Host Adds to Plagiarism Charge Against Mark Driscoll, Tyndale Responds

Mark DriscollReligion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt continues to follow the allegations of talk show host Janet Mefferd — reported here last week — that author and pastor Mark Driscoll has plagiarized large sections of other books. There’s a saying in academic life that copying from one source is plagiarism; copying from two sources is research. But in fact, you can copy from one source if you want to as long as you cite your source; as long as you give proper attribution.

Mefferd has uncovered further examples, and posted the texts on a 27-page .pdf document. This really stretches the need for us to use the term “alleged” because,

  1. Some of the text excerpts she presents are word-for-word, and
  2. There is a complete absence of footnotes

Mefferd however takes this one step further and alleges a desire to suppress the story on the part of Driscoll’s publishers — Tyndale and Crossway — and/or make her (Mefferd) look like the bad guy. On her show, she suggests the companies are putting profits over principles. You can listen to her radio show here. (Select 11.26.13 and choose hour #2)

Here is some of Merritt’s newest article, you can read it in full here.

Syndicated radio host Janet Mefferd sent shockwaves throughout social media when she accused megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism in a heated on-air exchange last week. In the last two days, however, Mefferd has turned up the heat with additional allegations. On Tuesday, she posted photocopied evidence that Driscoll borrowed material — this time, word for word — in another of his books, Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1&2 Peter. As Mefferd’s evidence demonstrates, Driscoll published several sections from D.A. Carson’s New Bible Commentary without proper citation.

Mefferd struck again on Wednesday, providing two additional allegations of plagiarism— both taken word-for-word from Carson’s New Bible Commentary and published in Driscoll’s book on 1&2 Peter. Carson has said that preachers who plagiarize are “stealing” and “deceiving.” Requests for a comment sent to the office of D.A. Carson were not immediately returned.

Last week, Mefferd claimed Driscoll plagiarized Dr. Peter Jones for at least 14 pages in his book, A Call to Resurgence. She has since released documentation in an effort to support these claims.

[click the above link to continue reading]

Meanwhile, a post on the blog Spiritual Sounding Board reprinted a comment on Janet Mefferd’s site from a reader which purports to be a response from ‘Customer Service’ at Tyndale issued on Wednesday.  It reads,

…Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards. 

I must confess having a hard time reconciling this statement with the material Mefferd’s .pdf file posting seems to clearly indicate. Mefferd’s radio show suggests that Tyndale has launched a “Resurgence” brand, therefore they have more at stake here than just the one title.  Mefferd also attempted to get a response from Crossway, Driscoll’s other primary publisher, without success.

For further background on this story check the investigative blog, The Wartburg Watch.

August 10, 2013

Do We Really Get The “We Are Part of a Body” Concept?

Filed under: ethics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

Today we’re sharing a common post at Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud:

I Cor 12:25 (NIV) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Cor. 12:25-26 (The Message) The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Romans 12::5 (Phillips) Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Romans 12:15 (NLT) Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

This week I was reminded that a couple of families we know are observing the anniversary of untimely losses. I copied The Message version of I Cor. 12:25-6 — see above — into an email and sent it to one such family. I respect Eugene Peterson’s credentials to do a translation like The Message, but I don’t know enough about his translation process to know how we came to “…involved in the hurt and the healing.” It’s certainly unique to his translation; but I like that it implies a sense of follow through; that we stick around not only for the hurt but for the better days that are to come.

This whole sense of bearing one another’s burdens is so contrary to western “me-first” individualism. We sort of get the idea of extending love and care to someone else, but we often miss the part of the concept where you and I are one. We sort of get the idea of the people in our church being family, but we miss out on the idea that as the body of Christ we are an organic unity.

Even in marriages — the epitome in scripture of becoming one — it’s common for husbands and wives to have separate bank accounts. I’m not talking about a situation where one spouse has a household account out of which to pay expenses as they crop up; I’m referring to situations where each keeps a portfolio of savings and investment accounts. Perhaps in an easy-divorce culture, it makes the separation of assets more simplified.

So the notion of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice tends to miss the recurring word “with.” We often weep for, and rejoice for, instead of weeping with and rejoicing with; and by this I am referring to the full sharing of their situation, not something simply done in physical proximity.

In our business, we adopted a financial policy that is somewhat biased toward the people of like faith that we deal with. We pay all our bills on time anyway, but we like to use the following principle, and expect the people who deal with us — many of them who are churches — to carry a similar goal:

Gal 6:10 (ESV) So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The problem is, consider the following scenario: A and B are both Christ-followers and are involved in a financial transaction where A is performing a service for B that is part of his trade. A wants to give B a price break because she is a fellow believer, but B wants to pay more than A is invoicing her for because she wants to honor the Galatians 6:10 principle.

I’ve been involved in such transactions — including very recently — where each person thought it was them that was doing the other person a favor, not unlike the classic scene where two very polite people are trying to let the other person go through a door first. “You go first.” “No, I insist, you go first.”

The way we work out these things is going to be complex, and sometimes an exactly similar situation will be interpreted in different ways by the different parties, leading to different outcomes. Still, I believe that God is pleased when we are endeavoring to honor Him by preferring others in all that we do.

Furthermore, I believe that what honors Him the most is when we truly view ourselves as part of a single collective body.

July 11, 2013

Strange Biases and Prejudices

Filed under: ethics, relationships, writing — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

The first job I got at 15 was in a large department store that employed hundreds of people. One day while I was working on the 2nd floor, someone needed to contact a girl who was working at the first floor checkouts. Since there were six people working there, they asked me to describe her.

I described her in detail; her height, what she was wearing, her hair color and length, and the person went off in search of her. A few minutes later they came back and said — and these are the exact words — “Why didn’t you just say she was black?”

For the next several weeks, I somewhat prided myself in the fact that my brain registered her simply as a person, and not that she was African American (or more accurately, African Canadian).  I had gotten to know her well enough that her race just wasn’t a factor.

But years later, I was aware of more subtle prejudices that had crept into my life. The main one, I’m ashamed to say, was red-haired people who were left handed. Yes, I knew several of them. And this was years before “kick a ginger” was fashionable. I don’t exactly where it came from, though in middle school, I was (somewhat mildly) beat up in a school restroom by a guy with red hair, though I never asked him if he was right-handed or left-handed. You just don’t think of things like that at the time.

I don’t honestly know how the two traits blended to form one profile, but eventually, I got over it.  (The sound you’re hearing is all my left-handed and red-haired readers unsubscribing.)

Growing up in Toronto, there were all sorts of stereotypes concerning bad drivers.

  • one particular gender (can you guess?)
  • one particular race (“they don’t get in accidents, they cause accidents”)
  • cars from one particular province (bet you have this in the U.S., too)
  • persons driving particular models of car (it varied)

Of course, the more of the above factors you combined into one driver the more you wanted to avoid them.

But like my situation with the girl at the department store, I prided myself in not being consumed by these stereotypes, even though I suspected that the anecdotal evidence bore some truth.

black truckBut then, several years ago, I did latch on to a new driver stereotype, and one which I am guilty of as I write this: people with black pickup trucks. I maintained — and still do — that ownership of a black pickup is as much about an attitude as it is about the vehicle. I count the times we’re passed on the freeway by aggressively driven black pickups. (My wife notes how I seem oblivious to people in other types of vehicles who go speeding past.) I think this one traces back to a neighbor who I was convinced tried to run me off the road a few times in his Chevy truck. Or maybe it was a Ford pickup. I don’t really know.

I still maintain that a person could not — not even in Texas — be a Christian and drive a black pickup truck. The two attitudes are completely incompatible. (But having biases and prejudices and being a Christian, is obviously something I do not have a problem with.)

We’re supposed to love people. So I endeavor to do that. “Love the driver, hate the truck.”  Yeah, that’s what I say.

So my wife informs me that several months ago the pastor bought a black pickup.

As long as I haven’t actually seen it, I’ll maintain there’s no way that could be true.

Do you have any unusual biases against certain people?

July 9, 2013

Everybody’s Not Doing It

Because we’re inundated with media that tells us that everybody is doing it, the other side should probably have equal time. If you’re on the fringes of the whole God scene, or maybe not even that close, here’s what I think some people I know would tell you…

Materialism

  • many of us are not going to a vacation resort this year
  • what you think is our ‘new’ car actually came off a three-year lease
  • I really don’t want a bigger house, in fact I’d like to downsize
  • those new appliances we ‘bought’ were free with credit card points
  • we think all those electronic gadgets are a waste of money

Boasting

  • yes, we paid off the bank loan, but then we took out another
  • many of us have kids that did not get straight A’s on their report card
  • Harry’s new job was a departmental move, not a promotion
  • the ten pounds I lost wasn’t exercise, they closed the local Krispy Kreme
  • the little league team we coach made the finals only because another team had to forfeit

Ethics

  • there are many people who do not embellish their resumé
  • no, actually I don’t cheat on my income tax
  • since you asked, not everybody looks at porn online
  • sorry, you’re wrong; not everybody tells lies to get ahead
  • if you look carefully, most of us really do drive the speed limit

Sexuality

  • the kids in my core youth group at church actually aren’t sexually active
  • the truth is, I haven’t thought about having an affair with the receptionist
  • I’m not that insecure that I need to flirt to prove I’ve still “got it.”
  • a lot of us women are not interested in reading the fantasy bestseller
  • there are many people who think inward qualities matter more than outward appeal

Anything you’d like to add?

April 27, 2013

A Couple’s Moral Responsibility to Frozen Embryos

Filed under: ethics, marriage, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

Christian Biomedical Ethics

Yikes! The world of biomedical ethics is complicated, but even more so when overlaid with a Christian worldview.  Take this question submitted to Russell D. Moore’s blog, Moore To The Point:

Dear Dr. Moore,

I know you don’t believe in in vitro fertilization, but my wife and I found it was a good solution to our infertility problem. We created multiple embryos, and carried two to term. We cannot afford any other children, so another round of pregnancies is not an option. Our quiver’s full. My conscience is bothering me a little, though, since we banked a number of other fertilized embryos, just in case the first round didn’t take. Do we have any responsibility for these embryos?

Sincerely,

A Stressed Dad

Okay, so if you haven’t read the column or haven’t peeked below, which way do you think he’s going to go on this?  Or, being perfectly honest, what the answer you would like to see, or the answer you would give if anyone asked you?

Time’s up!  Here’s a little bit of his answer, but clicking the link in the first paragraph here is highly recommended:

Dear Stressed,

Your quiver’s fuller than you think…

…In a Christian vision of reality there is no such thing as an “almost person,” which is what we think with the abstraction of “fertilized embryos.” Someone is either a human person, and therefore my neighbor, or not. You do not have “frozen embryos.” You have children, frozen in this cruelly clinical world of suspended animation.

It is one thing to decide you can’t afford to have children, before you conceive children, just as it is one thing to decide you can’t afford to marry, before you marry. You’re married though, and you’ve conceived children. You have an obligation to them. The one who does not care for his own household is, the Apostle Paul says, “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

This doesn’t mean your game-plan is easy. There’s a cross to take up here. The path from frozen storage to birth is difficult, whether through bearing those children or making an adoption plan for them into loving families. But these are not things; these are persons, worthy of love and respect and sacrifice…

Any surprise or shock I had at his answer stemmed not from fundamental disagreement but from entering a world of consideration that was completely foreign to me.  A few days ago, I had no opinion on this issue.  Today, I see a couple in a particular situation who have sought advice that may not necessarily be the advice they want to hear. Despite this, I still find myself torn.

I want to look the couple in the eye and say, “I see your pain and struggle with this.” Then I want to look Dr. Moore in the eye and say, “That was a very wise answer.” In other words, “I agree with you and (turning my head) I agree with you.” It’s a great stance if you’re going into politics, but I’m not sure how it plays out in the world of faith and ethics.

Rather, there is the feeling of being confronted with an issue that is beyond yourself, something you feel you lack capacity to assess. Where is Solomon when you need him? I suppose that’s the role that Dr. Moore is being asked to play here.

He concludes by linking alluding to a familiar scripture passage,

Your conscience might seem to be a nuisance to you… But a nagging conscience can be a sign of grace. It might be that what you are hearing is a happy foretaste of obedience to Christ, as you hear his voice saying, “I was frozen and you remembered me.”

What do you think?

March 26, 2013

Standing With The Homeless and Disadvantaged

Filed under: ethics, philanthropy — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 am

It’s so easy to be offended when you’re stopped at a traffic light and a scruffy, unwashed man suddenly leans into your open window and offers to clean your windshield.  Or the guy on the freeway off-ramp who is asking for help buying groceries. I don’t know what it is that makes saying no my default response.

However, when you actually get to know some of the people in that situation — as I have in small measure through the work my wife did co-founding a ministry organization reaching those very people — you tend to be offended in the opposite way when governments would restrict the right of those people to simply stand in an out-of-the-way location with a sign asking for whatever pocket change you can spare.

That’s the position that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — and anyone else who lives in community — finds themselves in when laws are passed that makes life even harder for people for whom it’s already hard enough.

On Wednesday he wrote:

Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveIn 2003, my wife Leah and I came to Durham to start the Rutba House, a Christian community of hospitality where the formerly homeless and the formerly housed share life together. Over cups of coffee and around our dinner table, we have learned the difficult stories behind the label “homeless” while also knowing the people who bear that label as friends. We have not ended homelessness in Durham, but we have seen that community is possible despite our fears and deep histories of division. We need not be afraid of those who beg for our help. In fact, our experience has convinced me that we cannot become the Durham we hope to be without them.

Our city’s new anti-panhandling ordinance has highlighted for us the importance of what we’ve learned at Rutba House over the past decade. Passed without public conversation as part of a consensus agenda in December, the new law did not go into effect until mid-January of this year. When it did, those who had purchased permits to beg under the old law were informed that they would be ticketed if they continued to “fly signs” at their usual stations. Within weeks, people who were asking for side jobs or spare change faced $250 fines. To date, at least two of them have gone to jail.

I do not believe City Council passed this new ordinance to send poor people to jail…

continue reading at Everyday Awakening

On Friday, this update:

…Last night, we had our first public meeting on Durham’s new anti-panhandling ordinance. Mel Williams of End Poverty Durham greeted the 200 people who crowded into Duke Memorial UMC’s fellowship hall by saying that we evaluate every public policy by one question: how does it affect the poorest among us?

If we are to know, we must listen to them. So we did.

One after another, men who have been ticketed for begging told their stories. Steve told about how, as he was standing on an exit ramp with a sign that said “Will Work,” his old boss saw him and picked him up last month. Now he has regular work and is able to pay the rent. But he came to speak for his friend Keith who just learned that he has cancer and is no longer able to ask for help because it’s illegal. Steve stood to speak for people like Keith who’ve been pushed further into the shadows.

Country shared his story. He told how he started priming tobacco when he was nine years old–how he worked hard every day for forty-one years before he was injured in a construction accident. On disability now, he gets medical care and a $710 check each month. But when his bills are paid, he’s already five dollars behind. For years, friends in Durham have stopped by Country’s corner and helped him make ends meet. But he got a ticket last week for talking through a car window to someone he’s known for years.

These are the stories that have convinced us that this new law is wrong. They are stories that make us ask, “How could a law like this have come to be?”

Some of us have spent Lent asking this question. When we asked the guys on the streets who’ve been getting tickets, they said, “Nobody asked us before the law was passed.” When we asked folks around town who run our homelessness services, they all said no one had asked them. So we talked to the Homelessness Services Advisory Council–the city/county group that exists to advise City Council on issues that affect the homeless. And they told us no one had asked them either.

How could a law like this have come to be? I think the answer is simple. Durham had not heard these stories.

But now we have…

continue reading at Jonathan’s blog

There was to have been a protest meeting on Sunday night. At this point, Jonathan hadn’t posted what the outcome was of that rally.

This type of thing is repeated in city after city in North America. Smug middle class people in their minivans or sedans weary of being accosted as they are stopped in traffic or walking on an errand downtown. People with the very attitude I confessed to myself in the opening paragraph. (My wife usually jumps in at this point and quickly produces some coins; then we drive away; I ask how much she gave; she tells me; I suggest she was overly generous. It’s a recurring scene.)

Not wishing to be thus imposed on for money, they urge their city or town councilors to pass legislation that will end the inconvenience once and for all. So the rich get richer and the marginalized get more marginalized.

But it’s different for Jonathan and the people in his community because he knows the people and their stories. And really, they is us. Anyone sitting in front of a PC or Mac right now reading this is conceivably there but for the grace of God.

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