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April 11, 2008: ACSWP #3, God's General Contractor

Recommendation #37 is another ACSWP paper; this one entitled "From Homelessness to Hope: Constructing Just, Sustainable Communities for All God’s People."

I must say, this one did not strike me as favorably as the paper on Serious Mental Illness.

1. It started almost immediately by asking the 218th General Assembly to reaffirm "Building Community Among Strangers." I know that title won't mean much to most everyone reading; however, ten years ago, ACSWP's "Building Community Among Strangers" study paper was a huge issue. The original study paper included, among other things, this statement about the Great Banquet: "The greatest surprise occurs when the food is blessed, not only in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God, but also in the name of Allah, the Lord Krishna, Siddhartha Buddha, and the Goddess Gaia!" The 210th General Assembly (1998) sent it back for a re-write; the re-write was approved by the 211th General Assembly (1999). The reason this still sticks in my craw is because I happened to be in the bookstore in the Presbyterian Center in Louisville several years later (2002? 2003?) and found the original pre-re-write study material for sale. The approved re-written material was not available.

2. Then, the second "reaffirmation" is for "previous Presbyterian commitments to actions aimed at preventing poverty, eg. education, job development, day care, living wage, health care, gambling, and so on -- and thus trengthen individuals and families in their efforts to avoid homelessness." I am troubled by the cavalier way this is written, the "everyone knows what we mean so we are just going to short-hand it..." Really? Were you aware that Presbyterians were committed to taking action aimed at preventing poverty through support of gambling? Education, good thing; job development, good thing; day care, good thing; living wage, good thing; health care, good thing; gambling, good thing; and so on... Perhaps this seems petty, but I'm only at paragraph "1.b." of a 24 page piece and have already stopped twice.

3. So, I took a step back and began to read with this standard in mind: what would it take to actually implement what this ACSWP paper is asking the General Assembly to approve? Consider how many people, what kind of actions, and what kinds of resources would be necessary:

And,

2. Encourage a comprehensive response to the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing (listing only a few of the paragraphs):

And,

3. Expand utilization of church resources to address the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing. (with paragraphs a-g)

And,

4. Advocate legislative and policy directions in keeping with this resolution. (with a number of things listed)

And,

And, as I reviewed this list I realized what was missing: God. "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." Not one of the "Strategies for Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness" involved prayer. God is not anywhere to be found. Instead, the conclusion says this,

Nevertheless, it is at last becoming clear what is needed. Each person or family experiencing homelessness (1) must be treated with dignity and respect and offered hospitality and welcome to permanent housing, and (2) must have access to the necessary resources and services to enable them to meet their needs and be able to maintain housing. The path from homelessness to hope is challenging, but the church is called to respond to this crisis with all its resources -- people, property, influence, advocacy, energy and finances -- as it works to construct just, sustainable communities for all God's people.

No salvation. No redemption. No gospel. ALL of the church's resources should be used to respond to the housing crisis. And offering hospitality? Ok, ...but ... "Hospitality, as envisioned here, includes economic restructuring so that people can meet their basic physical needs (have a place at the table)." Now, what does that mean?

ACSWP has given us a works-based righteousness. "The church is called to help people move from homelessness to hope through constructing just, sustainable communities for all God's people." ACSWP presents the idea that God has hired the church as a general contractor to build affordable housing for everyone on earth. We are falling down on the job. The church should feel guilty because, "God has provided enough for all but, in our greed, we misuse and misappropriate God's gift."

Seeing the face of Jesus in the face of "the least of these," churches often begin with a direct response -- by collecting food or clothing, opening soup kitchens and shelters, or allocating space to counselling programs or health clinics. While these responses are necessary, they do not address the causes of homelessness, do little to break the cycle for individuals and families in need, and may be offered in ways that do not empower them.

* * *

...[t]o truly be about the work of constructing just, sustainable communities, the church also needs to be involved in advocacy for public policies that prevent people from becoming homeless and remedy the injustices inherent in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Wow. God apparently hired the church and its subcontractor (the government) and has now left us alone to deal with it.

The questions for commissioners: