Thursday, November 6, 2014

Illegal Ministry?

What? Is this for real? Relevant Magazine revealed that  a ninety-year-old man arrested for feeding the hungry. Sadly, I can imagine a few "defenses" people might create for the city of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I can imagine someone saying that feeding the homeless is not "outlawed," only the feeding of homeless on the streets. True enough. They could always get a hot meal in a shelter. Does that make this situation better? You know what that argument sounds like to me? It sounds like the same argument the park rangers use concerning bears. Bears can eat in the woods, safely away from people, but do not feed them here. That will only attract them. This is not where they belong. This is a fine argument for animals that put us in danger when sharing public space. Guess what! These people are not animals. 
I understand that feeding the poor and hungry might draw more to that area and we upright, hardworking citizens would rather not see our city tainted by the poor. So, as the argument goes, let's not encourage them. If we don't feed them, they won't stay. Okay? Who has that helped? If they are not homeless here, does that somehow mean they won't be homeless elsewhere? We have pushed the situation, and, therefore, a glaring reminder of our brokenness, away from sight, and the poor are still poor. Here is a man who has joyfully served as he has been called to serve, and, yet, I can imagine other Christians will say that he should allow the system to work. Really? We want the state to do the job of caring for others? What will the church do then with all its newly found free time now that we do not have to care for the oppressed any more, because the Empire is doing the job? While we are at it, why don’t we just try and see if we can get the state to evangelize for us too! Let's all retire and go to the beach! Come on! 
We too often try to legislate our ethical duty to care for our fellow human out to the state, and we support or critique this process depending on how it benefits us, not the other. Let's have the decency to, at very least, be consistent. If we begin to allow the state to decide where the homeless can and cannot eat, then how can we be a people who think the church should do more for others and not the welfare system? How can we be a people who would not stand up for this man, who, instead of allowing the government to legislate how we should take care of the poor, puts his own hands and feet to work.
I do understand that having a high population of homeless persons in a city can be an issue. So, should the state not do something? Perhaps it should, but it should not be a quick fix that ignores the real issue. Christians should settle for nothing less than justice and mercy for those in need. If legislation comes our way that will help mitigate the homeless situation and at the same time be helpful to the homeless, I can see why we should support. However, until that day comes, we should only applaud men like this. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;//remove the evil of your doings// from before my eyes;//cease to do evil,// learn to do good;// seek justice,// rescue the oppressed,//defend the orphan,//plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16,17). Maybe more to this story will come to light, and I will have to reframe the way I think on the issue, but, with the information I have, I just cannot help but feel deeply saddened and disappointed that we live in a country where some would choose to mandate restrictions for helping others. Lord, have mercy. 
It is not as if this man was doing this for attention. He fed the poor for years and years before this law passed. He was only continuing the ministry he had been involved in for years. You better believe that if and when the state makes my ministry illegal, I will be doing it nonetheless.
In an article on FOX News, which had a bit more information, the city seems to try and frame this as a sanitation issue…
The article goes on to what I suspect is the real issue: "Cal Deal, a 65-year-old former journalist who videotapes homeless people in the city and says they commit crimes, cause sanitation problems and need more help than simply food… ‘The people feeding them are enablers, and they enable the homeless by making their lives easier,’ Deal told the New Times of Broward County. Hunger is a big motivator. Are people more likely to seek help when they're hungry or when they're fed and happy?’"
He was arrested again. The mayor claims that the reason behind the new ordinances is sanitation.

The mayor's response is ridiculous. I would like to see the study the city did to ensure that the new ordinances were necessary. I bet there has been no such study. If so, why not cite it?  I wonder how many people became ill because of this man's ministry. Until they provide real evidence, I have to suspect that they have no real evidence that there needed to be stricter regulations. It seems that these "concerns for health" are just excuses for the real reason for limiting how people can serve the poor. It seems the city is to trying to rid the streets from as many homeless persons as possible without really taking care of the issue. Out of sight, out of mind. I would love to be wrong, but until they start showing real evidence, instead of simply saying the new rules promote better health, I will never assume that feeding the homeless as this man does is a bad idea. I agree that, as Christians, we need to comply with the law as much as possible, but when that law limits our care for those in need, I think our calling to serve the oppressed trumps man's law.