“The Poor you will have with you, Always”

Feeding the Homeless, Phoenix 01/16/2010

“Feeding the Poor”

Nestled near Central Avenue and Northern, in Phoenix, Arizona, is the “Crossroads United Methodist Church.”

On Saturday mornings, around 7:30 am they begin lining up. The Homeless; the Un-wanted; the Un-kempt; the “Disposable People.” It’s breakfast time and there is a flurry of activity to serve everyone. The coffee line is long on this chilly morn, but moves quickly.

They arrive by bus, by bicycle, or simply walking. Some appear with their companion animals. All are treated with respect, dignity, fairness, and a healthy dosing of a non-judgemental attitude.

Yet, this simple act of Christian Charity is endangered. These people aren’t wanted there for a host of reasons. Foremost, is the proximity to an affluent neighbourhood.

Amidst the backdrop and tumult of the world, this church and its outreach to the poor and destitute of our modern society, finds itself the centre of controversy from the city of Phoenix, alleging a violation “based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”)

In a press statement released by the church and the ministry’s director Mike Ricker, it states:

“The City of Phoenix is taking a stance that extends far beyond Crossroads and threatens religious freedom in general. The city is purporting to use its zoning jurisdiction to regulate whether, and to whom, food can be served as part of a worship service. The sharing of food and drink has deep roots in the Christian faith, and is part of of the tradition of Judaism, Islam and other faiths around the world. By trying to regulate when food can and cannot be served in the middle of a religious service, the City of Phoenix is interfering with a sphere that has, until now, always been recognized as the exclusive “business” of the faithful.”

Is the The First Amendment right to Free Speech and Free Association being tested? The church thinks so, and others as well.

So how does this simple act of charity become the “lightning rod” for a law suit? In the cry of the Realtor’s credo: “LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!”

It’s too close to a neighbourhood that continuously disdains the plight of the homeless in America. Black, White, Hispanic, Poor: all are welcome here. But the church is 2 miles away from a wealthy pocket of homes and well THESE people’s misfortunes seem to be their own, and they [and the City of Phoenix] just want the problem to “Go away! Disappear! Vanish!”

By 10:30 am, everything on the church grounds is packed up, and the area returned to a pristine state. You’d never know they were there.

Perhaps the residents might well be advised to see how some of their fellow citizens actually live. But the street smells and stains, and their lack of influence, means that they will continue to be an unseen and unheard voice in the landscape of the American Political Agenda.

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” (Matt 25:35-40 NIV)

Wayno Guerrini