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Criminalizing Christ: The Nationwide Targeting of Homeless

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections | 0 comments

Sometimes a headline really grabs me. This one from Sojourners Magazine (2013) certainly did. Criminalizing Christ: The Nationwide Targeting of Homeless. There is evidence that what he described then is still true today.

Here are some of Rev. David R. Henson’s thoughts behind the headline. (I encourage you to read the full piece yourself.)

(Some say) that the best way to end poverty, homelessness, and need in our country is through the work and generosity of private individuals and private donations, not through government programs.

The answer, they say, is charity. Yet in a stroke of cruel hypocrisy, when charities actually address these issues in real life, they aren’t commended for their work.

Rather, they are threatened with arrest.

Right now, there is a critical opportunity to pivot the conversation and show how this one incident is symptomatic of a much larger issue. See, across the country, cities and lawmakers are targeting people who are homeless (and those who help them) for arrest and for removal.

The list of cities targeting the homeless is long, This targeting crosses all political lines. The list of 10 Meanest Cities toward the homeless includes conservative bulwarks like Atlanta as well as liberal ones like Berkeley and San Francisco.

Their list of ordinances and tactics targeting and criminalizing homelessness is long, creative, and diabolical.

Cities have made it illegal to lie down.
They have made it illegal to share a meal with people who are homeless.
They have made it illegal to sit in parks or on benches for long periods of time.
They have made it illegal to eat in public spaces.
They change their parks’ watering schedules to douse anyone staying there after hours.
They have removed completely and banned park benches.
They have banned panhandling.

The people pushing these laws, typically, are city planners, administrators, and elected officials who in their attempts to revitalize and redevelop urban centers with high-end developments, shopping districts, and other businesses simultaneously seek ways to get rid of homeless people living in their cities.

In other words, people who make their homes on city streets aren’t considered valid stakeholders — citizens — when planners seek new to revitalize urban centers. Rather than seek how such redevelopment can improve the lives of people experiencing homeless, city leaders consider them nuisances and problems that need to be solved.

I can think of no other group of people in our country that can be targeted so systemically and so blatantly just for their very existence with so little outcry

As a Christian, I know Jesus teaches us that we are to offer food to the hungry, to welcome the stranger, to give water to the thirsty — the least of these on the margins of society. But he goes much farther than that. He identifies with the least of these so much so that he says any time there is a hungry, thirsty or ostracized person, that person is Christ himself.

And if we don’t share our food, our water, or our welcome, then we are rejecting the Incarnation of God in this world.

It isn’t even about the criminalization of homeless people, their advocates, and friends.

It is about the criminalization of Christ.

A former journalist, the Rev. David R. Henson is a minister (transitional deacon) in the Episcopal church and authors the blog Edges of Faith at Patheos.

Find him on Facebook or on Twitter @davidrhenson. His piece originally appeared at The God Article, a site which is no longer operating.

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