Our Church’s First Response to the Needy
“Hello, this is Wonderful Redeemer Baptist Church.”
“Um… my name is Angie and I need to feed my children.”
“Well, we don’t have a food program here.”
“Could you recommend someone…”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t help you. Why don’t you try the government?”
“I can’t get any help from them now. I used up my opportunities.”
“Well, if they can’t help you, then we certainly can’t.”
“Could you give me a reference…”
“We don’t have any. Sorry. Goodbye.”
It is unfortunate, but conversations like this happen in churches every day in every city. Of course, we can only give what we have, but the real issue comes with how we speak, not just what we give.
Our technology has given us the ability to communicate to more people than ever before. But our use of technology has given us the ability to forget that at the other end of the phone or the internet is a real human being with real needs and desires and hopes just like we do. Our technology has given us a greater opportunity and excuse to dehumanize more people than ever before.
“Dehumanize” is kind of a technical term, so allow me the opportunity to explain it a bit. The Online Medical Dictionary defines Dehumanization as, “Loss of human characteristics; brutalization by either mental or physical means; stripping one of self-esteem.” Dehumanization is simply the reaction we have when we forget that another is a human being, and to treat them as a thing instead of a person who loves, struggles, dreams, sacrifices just like us. It is forgetting that just as we need respectful conversation, so do they. It is neglecting the fact that their needs are the equal of our own to be met. And most of all, it is forgetting that our Lord loves them just as much as He loves us.
There are two basic ethical principles by which we respond to others. The first is the one our Lord taught us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to give others the mercy, respect, forgiveness, grace and assistance we ourselves need. Not that which we deserve, but what we need, even as the Lord gives us grace we do not deserve. We all know this.
But the second principle works against this. This is the principle of security: “Protect your own against all others.” By this principle, we define some people as “neighbors” whom we love and some people as “others” whom we separate from, revile, spew hatred and, if they seem to be attacking our own, destroy.
We recognize that our churches are not to be in the destruction business. But what we don’t realize is how we can destroy people’s spirits or humanity because we see them as the “other.” We may see someone as a reprobate, one who is hard of heart, one who is helplessly foolish or who simply isn’t as loving as we are. We may see the “other” in the one who takes or who desires what we have: our money, our possessions, or our time. We know this principle is at work when someone questions our actions toward another as too harsh and we respond with, “They deserve it.”
The principle of Jesus to love gives no place to any principle which excuses dehumanization. We are never to think of another human being as the “other.” Our churches are constantly to represent the ministry of Jesus to all people, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, no matter what they need. Should the worst child molester in the world show up at our doorstep, even if we were unable to help them, we should be kind to him, and refer him to someone who can help him.
Certainly, not every representative of our church is a counselor and not every church worker has time for everyone. A church secretary should not be required to listen to every story that takes him or her away from the work they are to do. The pastor should not have to take every phone call. However every church should be prepared to be kind and helpful to every need that walks in the door.
- The one who responds to people who are seeking help should have a list of resources that the church provides, including a person who will pray, a person who knows local resources, a person who can give wise counsel, and a person who will simply listen. And the pastor should not be the only person on this list.
- Every church should have access to a list of organizations that helps a variety of needs in their local area with ready access to phone numbers.
- We should all be asking the Holy Spirit to give us words of humility, comfort, encouragement and mercy, in accordance with the love of our Lord Jesus.
- We should all learn not to answer the phone or get on the internet when we are overly stressed or likely to lash out.
- We should all take personal retreats (even if only to our bedroom) when needed so we can be better ready to respond in accordance with the Spirit’s leading.
If you would like to know more about dehumanization, especially as it relates to the homeless, please check out Anawim Christian Community’s web site.
This is the second article of a series by Steve Kimes, pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a church of the homeless and mentally ill in Portland, Oregon. As we continue to face an uncertain global economic future, we’ve seen the number of poor growing in the USA and around the world. Taking this issue seriously, Pastor Steve Kimes will discuss how the church relates to poverty and the poor, conversing with the Bible about our attitudes and actions about the poor. Steve invites you to respond either here or on the Anawim website.