I read the most interesting article today. Apparently, there are places in Florida, and I’m sure other states, where it is illegal to feed homeless people. Let me repeat that again – it’s illegal to feed homeless people. The article featured a picture of a 90 year-old man, who was arrested alongside two pastors in Ft. Lauderdale, and discusses the issue fairly well. Of course, there were a number of bystanders who did not take this arrest very well, and a fair number of people were concerned about how the law forbidding feeding the homeless got passed, but the police did their job as well as they could under the circumstances.
Interestingly, the energy behind passing such laws appears to be the idea that local parks “should be accessible to everyone” (not counting the homeless) and that businesses need more access and control of public spaces. What the article, unsurprisingly, does not say is that there are a considerable number of people who simply fear the homeless or do not like the image projected by having a large population of homeless individuals hanging around. In Orlando, the article notes, the city has gone so far as to require permits to feed 25 or more homeless people in some parks, and numerous people have been arrested for doing so.
I’m really curious as to what people expect here. Our nation faces the largest income disparity of any civilization since the fall of the Roman Empire, with vast swaths of mentally ill, returning veterans, jobless, homeless, addicted, and other displaced persons wandering the landscape. Should we be surprised that such persons would gravitate to areas where the weather is warm? Should we really expect desperate and displaced people to conveniently hide themselves somewhere that they cannot be seen or heard? It seems like this problem is an inevitable consequence of a number of choices our society has made, so isn’t the choice to ignore or hide it merely another bad one?
And yet, amidst what seems to be a growing number of powerful people who would seek to do just that, there are still people who understand that their faith does not allow that choice. They’ll endure arrests, go to jail, pay the fines, and suffer the other consequences of their actions, but they are not going to stop showing kindness and compassion to others. It’s really easy, these days, to look at Christianity as an idea that has run its course. After all, there are so many people who give so many reasons they don’t believe anymore. Politicians whose voting blocs depend on oppressing people in the name of religion are starting to deeply strain the credibility of the faith they claim to profess. Atheists like Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins are increasingly hailed as the source of “good ideas” in various public forums. Churches continue to shrink as their leaders continue to fight. Laws like this get put on the books, and protests are met with justifications and sophistry, but no action to change the way we do things.
Steven Colbert once said something that really applies here:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”
Of course, this was seen as highly offensive by a number of people, but why? Don’t laws like this kind of prove his point?
So, as I read this article, my heart was lifted by the testimony of the people who did the right thing despite the laws that decreed that such things were not to be done in their communities. I hope that they are seen as beacons to other faithful, even while being seen as disruptive by people whose solution to poverty and homelessness is seemingly shy of doing all that can be done to end them. I also wonder about myself. If they were (God forbid) to pass such laws in my community, could I get arrested? I would consider it a great honor, but could I go through with it? Could any of us? I hope I could.