Shortly after I wrote on homelessness on Wednesday, I heard a heartbreaking story on the radio. The story was entitled, “Church closes food bank because it attracts poor people”. Wanting to see the whole story, I looked it up and realized that the story is true, however it happened in the year 2000. This is the link to a confirmation news account when the story first broke.
The minister of only two months at this small church is quoted as saying,
“It’s attracting a lot of street people that make it uncomfortable…it’s creating social unrest in the church’.”
“A food bank is a social service and that is not who we are.”
The story attributes her decision, at least in part, to input from a sister church located in Victoria. Rev. David Durksen of the Unity Church of Victoria advised via email:
“Most clients of food banks have not yet come to a sense of personal responsibility in life. They are still in denial, blame or seeing the world as owing them.”
This story is thirteen years old. Somehow it has made its way back to the limelight, and rightfully so. People unanimously understand the absurdity of the statement that a Church is not a social service. This minister erroneously decides to only aspire to feed people’s spiritual hunger while neglecting their physical needs.
Having just reflected on the topic two days ago, I will not rehash my convictions. But what most deeply caught my attention about this article is the observation made by David Durksen. He unashamedly makes the generalization that most people who come to the food banks have a mindset of entitlement. Unfortunately, He is neglecting the reality that this is the culture that our society has bred. It is not just the poor who think that the world owes them something, it is most people in the United States.
That is why we are known as the “Ugly American” when we travel. We think everyone should speak English, we want things our way, we want freedom, we want people to serve us, and if we are not pleased we do not want to pay. Or even if we are pleased, we hope for a comped meal; “on the house”. We are all beautiful, we are all amazing, we are all worth so much more. Gone are the days of starting at the bottom and working our way up. Gone are the days of respect for our elders and authority. Gone are the days of valuing and serving one another, except for the photo and update we can put on facebook for the world to see and think more highly of us.
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
– Rom 12.3
This is the core of our problem. We consider ourselves extremely valuable. On this church’s website, the home page has listed their “Five Basic Principles of Unity”. Principle number three is:
“Our essence is of God and therefore every human being is inherently good”.
They are proclaiming the very deceit that they abhor in those who would utilize their food service. If you are successful and established, it is all right to affirm that your essence is good. But if you rely on the support and help of others, then you are in denial and see the world as owing you. This is a lie from Hell. Yes, we are made in the image of God. But no, we are not inherently good. All of our attempts at righteousness are as filthy rags (Is 64.6). There is none righteous. No, not one (Rom 3.10). We are dead before Christ breathes Spiritual life [salvation] into us (Eph 2.1). We are not good. We are dead. Utterly incapable of honoring God. Because everything that is not from faith is sin (Rom 14.23).
So when we understand our universal depravity as a species, what then is the answer? Is a food bank the answer? I certainly believe that there is a place for a food bank: a system for providing for those in their time of need. However, it is more profitable to help these people get on their feet so that they no longer need the food bank. And when someone assumes that the church does indeed owe it to them to feed them, that is when we preach the Gospel unashamedly: No, none of us deserves anything good. But we give freely because we have received freely. We should not enable people to abuse us or the system, we should help them to honor God with their lives.
I have some good friends, a married couple, he holding a Masters degree and she a successful hair dresser – but he unable to find profitable work and she busy at home with two children under three years of age – who needed to use the church’s food pantry when they could not afford to put food on the table. They were thankful, they were humble and they continued to work diligently to find work and provide for their family. This family in no way considered it their right to be fed, but gratefully thanked those who gave. These ministries are dynamic and fruitful when utilized correctly. But imagine the impact and blessing the church could have had if they had helped this family to network and find a job and a place to live!
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
– Phil 2.3-4