Saturday, July 18, 2009

Abuse of Power

homeless, evangelism, witnessing, religion, abuse,
Dominic Mapstone at has captured exactly how I feel about so-called "faith based initiatives": it's an abuse of power. It's an abuse of power to combine evangelization with helping the needy.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a homeless person. Every moment of your life is fraught with difficulties and indignities. You have no home, so you have no safe place to sleep, no bathroom, no shower, no refrigerator, nothing but what you can carry on you. Your needs are enormous and basic and no doubt overwhelming. How you will pay for a meal is complicated by the fact that few businesses are willing to tolerate those who cannot bathe or do laundry on a regular basis. Most people won't even look you in the eye, let alone seat you at a table.

Where I work is where most of my city's homeless congregate. I see this every day. I listen to people in the convenient store next to my work mock the homeless who dare to go step inside to buy something to eat or drink. "He should have bought some Tide," they say, or "How about a bar of soap to go with that?" This from teenagers working a part time job to pay for clothes or gas for their cars. Once, I asked the cashier exactly where she thought that man could wait, naked, while he washed his only set of clothes. "Don't be such a bitch," was her reply.

Now imagine being this man, and having the person who does offer you a meal, and maybe a place to sleep that night, ask you about your religious beliefs, or invite you to pray with them or attend a church service. What would you say? If it were me, I'd agree with their beliefs, pray along or attend the service. I'd be too afraid that disagreeing or saying no would mean no more meals and no bed to sleep on. Maybe, if I do well enough at praying, I can have clean clothes, I'd think. Maybe even a bath and a toothbrush. That'd be pretty sweet.

I can't imagine what these sorts of evangelizers think they are proving. All they are proving is that desperation breeds a certain sort of agreeability. That's not a win, people.


  1. I agree with you that it is not a win for the evangelists, but I don't see it as any sort of abuse. They are doing a good thing and according to their beliefs they are doing it for the right reasons. I can't fault that.

    In my community the most effective are the Catholics, partly because they don't really evangelize. They let their works speak for them. Catholic Community Services is a big help to the poor and homeless in my city. They offer all sorts of help for people with food, rent, utilities and they don't have any required prayer or religious services. They are very well respected and loved in my area.

    I don't have the statistics but based purely on their reputation I think they are more successful then the protestants even though they don't ask you to pray to pay. Actually I can only think of a few protestant groups or churches doing charity work in my area and they are pretty small scale. Almost all of the local private charities are either Catholic or secular. The evangelicals seem to focus on helping the poor overseas, and sending foreign missions. Maybe they have better luck in third world countries than they do around here.

  2. I did miss your first line about faith based innitiatives. I mistakenly thought you were talking about private religious charity.

    You are exactly right about government sponsored religious charity as being an abuse of power. If a private group says pray and I'll feed you they have that right. It is a stupid and I think counter productive thing, but their entitled. When the government takes tax dollars and then says pray and we will give you some of this money we extorted from people. That is a different matter altogether.

    Worse it is also an abuse against charitable people. If the government raises my taxes to fund some Christian homeless shelter, they are taking money I could use for a secular charity and forcing me to support a religion with it. This should be a no brainer from a Constitutional standpoint, but the government stopped caring about that early in the twentieth century.

  3. No public money should be spent on religious activities. Period. Even when said religious group *claims* they are separating their religious beliefs from what they're doing. Bottom line folks, with groups like Christians, they are willing to say one thing to get money and then turn around and evangelize because they think it's just taking money from the "evil world" and using it for their gods glory. No rules apply for these types of people. Just like they use the claim of tolerance to shield their intolerance. What even more sick is that under Bush he knew that's exactly what they were doing. But so long as the paper said it was for non-religious's all good.

  4. Well said too PF. Christians have long preyed upon to down and out. They know pain, suffering and desperation makes a person more prone to accept whatever positive message they have.

  5. I disagree also... my question is, why are religious missions the organizations that seem to want to address homeless people's well being at all?

    Are there atheist missions for the homeless? If so, more power to them for getting their world-view out there.

    If not, why not?

    The problem as I see it, is not the nature of the groups themselves, but requiring them to be "faith based"--it should be "action based" and the govt money opened up to everyone, including socialists or whoever else is willing to start a soup kitchen.

    (Okay, full disclosure: I am a Catholic who has worked with Catholic Charities re: the homeless and death row inmates.)

    They know pain, suffering and desperation makes a person more prone to accept whatever positive message they have.

    Or possibly, we think suffering IS the human condition (First Noble Truth), and was experienced by God Himself when He actually became a human. I don't think it is necessarily a "positive" message, but one we think needs to be communicated and understood by any suffering person who is possibly blaming themselves instead of understanding this concept.

    Just my two cents.

    (More full disclosure: former AA member who was formerly homeless also, don't need to 'imagine' it... blah blah blah. Etc!)

  6. While I think it's a good thing for faith-based initiatives to help the needy, I agree that it does smack of an abuse of power. At the very least, it seems a bit like bribing poor people to be Christians.

    I feel the same way about some of the missionary work that occurs in Africa.


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