In the past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to visit with two men who are homeless. One of the men, Matt is in his mid to late forties, the second, Robbie, is in his early twenties. Both of these encounters allowed me to exercise my greatest freedom, to feed the poor and to listen to their stories.
After meeting Robbie, I drove through a neighborhood with a number of churches and I wondered “what would have to change in our society for churches to be opened to the homeless?” That question was followed by the thought “opening churches would just enable people to stay in their current condition, it would not help them to make better choices.”
Recovery groups, counselors, and self help books seem to advise against enabling; I get that, I understand that helping someone should be about helping that person to rise up and walk, as one of the stories in the Christian scriptures puts it. However, who determines when someone is healed enough to make that ultimate change in direction?
In my early sobriety I was unable to function; I was unable to produce a coherent thought; how then was I supposed to hold a job? The people who rescued me, those people who enabled me had no way of knowing that I earnestly wanted to survive and later thrive; they only knew that I needed shelter and food. Just as I was in those early days, there or those who are down in life, the hungry, the homeless, the broken, who need what I was given, the time to heal and become strong enough to walk upright. I was able to provide sustenance for both Matt and Robbie, and believe me they both needed to be fed; however, I was not able to be a part of either of their lives long enough to provide them time to heal; but our churches can be and should be.
One of the greatest spiritual tragedies of humanity is enabling a church to act like a charity; what I mean by that is, giving tax free dollars to the business of churches and in return the churches using those funds merely to pay its overhead. If we want to feed the poor and provide healing time to the broken we must start by fixing our churches.
One simple way to restore churches to their purpose is to tax their income; the churches in turn can receive tax credits for the charity that is given; in the current tax free world churches are not held accountable to charity, and yet they are building structures that are functional a few hours out of the week from the moneys that they collect. What could happen if people such as myself in early sobriety, or Matt and Robbie were given the opportunity to survive and then to thrive? You may say that the answer is up to them; but is it? No matter where a person is in their life, if they are contemplating a career change or trying to get off of the streets, the truth remains the same, all decisions and changes need time to come to fruition. If people such as Matt and Robbie were given time to heal and not merely the breakfast sandwiches that I could provide, they would have a better chance of thriving. If churches were in the business of enabling people to heal all of humanity could begin to thrive.
I have worked within the Catholic Church organization a couple of different times, and I always had the same argument with the priest that I worked for; I proposed “give the people what they need and the people will provide for the needs of the Church.” Unfortunately the reality is opposite and the churches, just like a household, pay their overhead first and let charity be damned. I continue to ask “when did the church become the charity that receives instead of the charity that gives?” When the church is called upon to provide for those most in need it is rarely able to do so, instead the congregants who have already provided for the overhead and salaries of the business of the church are called upon again to dig deeper and provide charity; not because they, the congregants are not charitable, but because the church has become a poor excuse for a charitable organization.
We must help the structure to change, we must stop enabling our churches to operate as a poor business model; because like all businesses, if the church is not doing its job well, it should fail, and its job is charity. Remove the tax free status of all religious organizations and force churches to be accountable for who they profess to be, charitable organizations, if churches want tax breaks make the churches earn the tax break. If churches are truly in the business of charity and not in existence merely as a business they should agree with no reservations what-so-ever.