Monday, August 9, 2010

Mother Valori's August article for The Shelby Star: The kind of Church we are

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)

During a recent phone conversation, I was asked a question that got me thinking. “What kind of church are you running there?” the frustrated caller asked. The context of the conversation was my advocacy for a poor family being treated with disrespect and in violation of the summary of the law Jesus gave as well as the laws governing landlords in North Carolina.

Having worked as an advocate for the poor and homeless for decades now, I still find myself surprised by the amount of depersonalization I confront. The “poor” are made into an idea, a concept. Then “they” can be dismissed or blamed or condemned for the trouble they represent.

In this economy, however, our comfortable definitions of the “poor” are being disrupted. If there is redemption to be found in the current economic reality, this might be part of it. Suddenly people who have always been able to provide for themselves (and judged those who could not) are finding themselves on food assistance lines, facing foreclosure and sudden job displacement. They are experiencing what it feels like to be exiled to the fringes of society where dignity and identity are lost. They are no longer who they were. Now, they are “them” – the poor.

All of us who witness this process are forced to remember that the poor aren’t a concept, they are people: mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers. These are the least who are members of our family.

While advocating for the above-mentioned family, I visited two homes they were trying to rent. In one house, the floor in one room was covered in dead bats, the back porch infested with rats, the main power line to the house broken by a tree branch that still lay against the house. In the second home, the kitchen and bathroom had electrical wires stretching across the sinks and raw sewage leaking up into the porch behind the kitchen. My heart broke.

I contacted the landlords who have begun responding to these issues, but the question for me remains: why would anyone think that it is okay to let a family move into a home like that in the first place? Why should there be a need for advocacy?

The answer is: because humans sin and systems get used to exploiting the poor and powerless who have ceased to be people to them. It’s always been that way. Jesus confronted the exploitive systems of his time during his earthly ministry, then gave to us, his followers, the command to do likewise. Remembering how the systems responded makes this command a bit fearful, so we focus instead on the bigger picture, the final outcome – the resurrection (heaven’s response) that followed the crucifixion (earth’s response).

The exploiters and the exploited are beloved children of God. Our goal as Christians is reconciliation. So to answer this person’s question, “What kind of church are you running there?” I would say: “A Christian church – one that advocates for the poor and defends the dignity of the least who are members of God’s family.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did not see this article. Excellent!